Hockey’s spotlight always shines the brightest on the last line of defence. Often the spotlight exposes the slightest of imperfections. Criticized, highly scrutinized and over analyzed. That’s life in crease.
Unfortunately, when it comes to goaltending in this country everything is magnified.
Is Canada producing enough elite level goaltenders, if not, why and who’s to blame?
The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in partnership with Hockey Canada and all the provincial hockey branches across Atlantic Canada and Quebec have joined forces to shed real light on the situation, in effort to grow the position and to continue to develop young netminders while cultivating a professional learning community amongst its coaches.
“It’s been two years since we had discussions with Hockey Canada,” said the Assistant to the Commissioner of the QMJHL Martin Lavallée.
“They wanted to get better between the pipes with our goaltenders and see what we could do in each of the leagues across the CHL,” said Lavallée.
Lavallée and Edmonton Oilers Goaltending Development Coach Sylvain Rodrigue jumped at the opportunity to help develop the next crop of young goaltending prospects in Quebec and across Atlantic Canada.
“Sylvain and I had a chat during the Memorial Cup in Windsor two years ago, to see how we could build something that would promote and develop eastern Canadian goaltenders and provide goaltending coaches something to build and share as well.”
For Lavallée the initiative was all about the strength of collaboration. “We want to promote our goaltenders and help them improve so they can get better and better,” Lavallée said.
Lavallée and Rodrigue formulated the inaugural event in Quebec City three years ago and have watched it grow ever since.
“We invited thirty-six goaltenders the first year, two from each Q team. In the year two we had sixty-six goaltenders sign up. This year we wanted try something different, we invited the Q goalies and future prospects,” explained Lavallée.
The league took their new plan and wanted to expand it to the Atlantic Canada. “We realized it was far for the Maritime goaltenders to come to Quebec City, so with the suggestion of the goalie coaches from the Maritime teams we decided to build something there.”
From Boucherville, Quebec to Moncton, New Brunswick, the QMJHL will have two goaltending developmental camps happening simultaneously this weekend.
The top goaltending prospects from each Maritime based QMJHL team and Newfoundland will be in attendance plus some 2004 and 2005 born netminders to see first hand the level of coaching that is provided in the league.
“We reached out to all the branches from every province, we realize doing it alone is tough. If we do something together we can promote a big event where all the top goalies can come together, and that’s what we have done,” explained Lavallée.
“One of our main objectives is to bring the goalie coaches from all different branches so they can get some information and insight into the expectations of Q goalie coaches and take that back to their minor associations,” explained Lavallée.
“It’s fantastic,” Lavallée said of having all the branches and goaltenders participating.
Twenty goaltending coaches from across Atlantic Canada will be attending this weekend’s camp in Moncton, along with six goaltenders from Newfoundland.
In all thirty-one goaltenders will converge on the Hub City this weekend for the two-day camp.
On the Front Lines
Paul Drew and Joey Perricone are on the front lines of the goaltending-coaching world.
Drew and Perricone hold down Video and Goalie Coaching positions with the Charlottetown Islanders and the Moncton Wildcats respectively.
The young coaches and former Canadian Hockey League standout netminders have adopted new innovations along with time-tested techniques to ensure peak performance between the pipes.
“Most goaltending coaches roles on teams, are really behind the scenes,” confessed Drew.
“My role with the Islanders is to make sure our guys especially our starter is well prepared.”
From the start of the season to the final playoff game, Paul Drew is never too far away and has his fingers on the pulse of the goaltending tandem.
“A lot of the stuff we do throughout the season is maintenance, making sure they are getting good reps in practice and being preparing well for games, breaking down games for them in areas where they can improve on to continue to progress and develop.”
“Depending on the situation, you always have to take care of the backup as well, to make sure they are getting reps and they are ready to go at any moments notice.”
“I’m starting to learn and this where the other goalie coaches come in from around the league, we learn from one another,” confessed Drew.
Drew is branching off and doing even more innovative things around the position in order to progress and develop as coach. The former OHL and UPEI backstop enjoys collaborating with all the coaches in the league especially Moncton Wildcats Goaltending/Video Coach Joey Perricone, who applied his trade in the WHL.
“Joey does both jobs as well, but to his extent, he cuts video for all the coaches on his staff, I’m learning and asking him questions and vice versa.”
“A lot of what we do is open dialogue,” Drew said.
“We aren’t telling each other our tactics and secrets, it’s more like us trying to progress as coaches. We are just sharing ideas with one another,” explained Drew.
The isolation and solitude of the goaltending position can be overwhelming, that same feeling can sometimes creep into the coaching world.
“The goaltending coaching position is so behind the scenes, and such an individual coaching position. I try to learn from our coaches in what they do and what they can do to help our goalies from them, but it’s always refreshing to talk to other goalie coaches,” stressed Drew.
Drew is quick to credit all the goaltending coaches across the league and this region for being so willing to share and grow the position.
“The majority of the goalie coaches that we visit are great.”
“We have some good conversations, we are all trying to learn about what each guy does. It’s really no different from goalies learning new tactics and adding new innovative stuff to their tool box to make them better, us coaches do the same thing.”
Drew believes the willingness to share has a direct correlation with the growth of the game and the position.
“There’s no secret sauce anymore, guys are sharing their information and ideas. We have good discussions on players. We all care about the kids so much and the goalies that we have, that we just want to make them better.”
The Maritime based QMJHL teams are all bitter rivals, but the collaboration between coaches is one built on trust.
“It is about trust. The comments between us get the ideas flowing with your own creativity. If we are discussing what we really like with a goalie or we kind of see something new or something we like, that’s when we may want to try it with our own goaltenders,” Drew explained.
Goaltenders are a unique group of athletes and so are those that coach them.
“Anyone that isn’t a goalie that sits down and listens to what we are talking about might get lost. They must look at us like we have ten heads, for all the stuff we are going on about goalies and doing different drills.”
That’s one of the main reasons why this weekends QMJHL Goaltending Development Camp in Moncton is so special, it provides another unique opportunity for this close network of coaches to reconnect, share, learn and grow.
“The importance of this weekend is huge,” said Drew.
“This camp identifies the kids coming up, these kids are going to take a lot pride in being selected, it’s going to give them a lot of motivation and is only going to help them moving forward.”
“It’s huge to be able to collaborate, because we are all on the same page, we are all trying to learn,” stressed Drew.
“At the end of the day, we don’t want to over complicate things for the goalies and coaches. It’s all about getting the goalie coaches together on the same page using the same language and trying to accomplish the same thing, creating good goaltenders that can stop pucks” said Drew.
Drew is thrilled to see all the branches from Atlantic Canada and the QMJHL, CHL and Hockey Canada working together in effort to prepare young goaltenders for next level.
“It’s full circle, there’s a whole lot of experience and learning going on and from a Hockey Canada perspective it’s all about identification,” Drew said.
“We want to make sure that are CHL guys are familiar with everyone from the region so we can identify the best goaltenders, it’s all about progression.”
Drew sees this weekend as a showcase not only for young and upcoming talent, but another opportunity to get to know these young players on a personal level.
“Absolutely, that’s spot on, with this experience, the players are learning good value and what it takes to be a good goaltender and I think by bringing the branches, QMJHL, CHL and Hockey Canada together at the forefront we are getting to know the kids and identify them personally.”
The Islanders goalie coach is aware of all the negative attention and bad press surrounding the position over the years, but certainly disagrees with it.
“I see the position here in Canada in really good hands through Hockey Canada and this new restructuring,” explained Drew.
“I feel the QMJHL is doing a great job identifying goaltenders.”
“Goaltending changes all the time, its pendulum, tactics and trends are always changing, so goaltenders just have to do their best to adapt.”
“Everyone has their own style and philosophy of how to do it, but going forward, I think if goaltending is going to be good in Canada, we need to continue to have everyone on the same page, use the same language and help one another out, rather than keeping secrets, there are no secrets, we need to encourage everyone to share,” stressed Drew.