As much as the sport (and the position) has evolved – just look at the way the equipment went from skimpy pads to netminders resembling “The Michelin Man” – some things never change. Even if their relative value within an NHL franchise and on the free agent market may ebb and flow, goalie performances still make or break just about every NHL team.
So it makes sense, then, to hire a bright and skillful goalie coach to get inside their often murky heads. NHL.com had a nice story about the rise of goalie coaches from just a few only a decade or two ago to an every team standard now. While the story emphasizes the importance of learning the intricacies of a position that is now much more challenging and technical thanks to the increased speed of the game, a good relationship between a goalie and his coach ultimately comes down to human factors like trust.
Goalie coaches have drawn comparison to quarterback coaches in football because they handle a small, specialized group of players — in the NHL, that’s usually just the two goaltenders carried by most teams. With such a close relationship, success boils down to a matter of trust between player and coach.
“There has to be trust,” Dunham said. “Trust in the goalie to trust his goalie coach. The goalie coach has to understand what the goalie is going through during the ups and the downs of a season. The goalie has to feel that the goalie coach understands where he is coming from and what he is trying to do.”
Francois Allaire, regarded as one of the best goalie coaches in the world, couldn’t agree more about the importance of trust in the goalie-coach relationship.
“Trust is important, just like in every relationship,” he told NHL.com. “The goalie has to trust the system you bring in practice and he has to trust it’s going to work in the game.”
(It’s great to see random goalie names from the 90s like Dunham’s pop up out of nowhere, isn’t it?)
The funny thing is that I was waiting through the first few paragraphs of this story thinking “Why hasn’t Francois Allaire been mentioned?” He seemed to have the Midas Touch with goalies as the guy for the Anaheim Ducks, churning out winners like J.S. Giguere, Ilya Bryzgalov and most recently Jonas Hiller.
That being said, Allaire could be the source of a “chicken or the egg” argument if the goalies on the Toronto Maple Leafs struggle this season. After all, Allaire spent his time in an organization that employed the likes of Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger. Some might say that a goalie’s best friend is his coach, but I’d say that an even better ally comes in the form of a huge, gap-toothed defenseman who will make the opposition pay.
Nonetheless, sports require a much more academic approach than ever before, so it’s great to know that every NHL team invests in a goalie coach. Perhaps we’ll find more sophisticated ways of measuring their aptitude beyond wins and save percentages some day, too.