How does a goalie coach help your team? I don’t know, so I tried to find the answer.
Ron Tugnutt was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques in the 4th round of the 1986 NHL entry draft. He played in the NHL from 1988 to 2004 for Quebec, Edmonton, Anaheim, Montreal, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Columbus and Dallas.
He also spent time in the AHL. He has had multiple goalie coaches in his career, he has been a goalie consultant for Hockey Canada and he’s been a goalie coach in the OHL.
Tugnutt shed some light on what exactly a goalie coach does.
When you look at the success of a goalie, how much of it really comes down to
the goalie coach in your mind?
Tugnutt: I don’t think that there is a lot.
I think that the goaltending coach’s job is to prepare the goalie and be aware
of any weaknesses that might be creeping into his game. I think that if he’s
giving up certain goals that are becoming frequent or an issue then that’s
something that you (goalie coach) have to take a look at and say is there
something that we can do different. But overall, I can tell you that the most important
thing for a goalie is confidence. And if he’s confident then that will
show in his game and if he’s not, then that will show in his game also.
Gregor: How do you maintain or instil confidence in the goalie as a coach?
Tugnutt: I know a lot of goalie coaches
that I’ve had and stuff that I’ve used is just positive feedback. You use
video, show the goalie making good saves, just basically at the end of the day
It’s tough to get yourself up and off of
your feet when you don’t feel confident and you don’t feel you can make a save
and be difference maker for your team.
And so the idea is that you try to maybe fool them a little bit. You say
that you are one big save away from turning this whole thing around. And then
maybe you show some video, some of his big saves and things that he’s done.
Using not lucky saves, but saves that you say ‘that’s a great read, that’s what
we’re talking about’ and just keep pounding positive stuff in rather than ‘he
beat me here,’ ‘they keep doing this’ because once you keep banging bad goals
or bad saves, then it’s tough to overcome mentally.
So, you might make one little tweak in his game, but it’s not like when you meet
a new goalie and suddenly alter his entire game?
Tugnutt: No. When I was with the World
Junior program and I was getting everybody else’s goalies and it got to the
point where I knew after watching him for a couple of skates, I knew which goalie coach he worked with. I started
knowing who their goalie coach was from their style of play.
For me, you said it right off of the start
of the show, just stop the puck. And as the goalie coach, I was always that’s
it, stop the puck. And there’s the old saying there’s more than one way to skin
a cat. And the bottom line is that some goalies do things differently. You
can’t be so caught up in saying you have to do it this way all of the time. If
you’re a goalies coach that says it has to be this way all of the time, then I
think that you are making a mistake.
Conversations are like this: ”You know something, that works for you, I’m not a
big advocate of that, I’m not really a big fan of it, but you want to know
something, if it works for you and
you’ve got to keep using it.”
have to be able to do that as a goalie coach instead of saying ‘I know you made
the save but that’s not the way that you’re supposed to do it’. No, the bottom
line is that it’s working, you use it. If it’s not working then you have to
look at something else to make a change to fix it.
NEW GOALIE COACH
Gregor: Ron, when you got traded what was the first
conversation you had with the goalie coach when you arrived to a new team?
Tugnutt: Well you know the hardest one for
me would have been going to Montreal, because
when I got traded to Montreal
I was more of your… I was more of like Mike Palmateer, kind of crazy, out of
control, two pad stacks, and that’s the way that I played.
I went to Montreal and of course Francois
Allaire was there and his protégé was Patrick Roy, who was the ultimate
fundamentally, get in the middle of the net and be big goalie. He tried to incorporate
some of that with me. Francois was a very open man and we had a great
conversation with him and I said, ‘Francois I’m not six foot two, I’m five ten
and I can’t just go down on my knees and expect to stop everything. They’ll
pick me apart upstairs.’ So he was great, he was open. He said, ‘Alright, well
this is what I want from you. When they shoot I want you in the middle of the
net.’ I said ‘no problem.’
So my game changed to instead of sliding
out of the net all of the time, two pad stack, all I focused on was being in the middle of the net when they
shot which means they have to make good shots to beat [me]. That was a great
learning thing for me to get that from him because moving forward that was
probably my saving grace in my career, because the game has changed so much
from the goalie standpoint.
He didn’t try to change your style, in a sense, because he didn’t want you to
be a butterfly goalie, but you did have to be less active in goal, so there is still a
lot of onus on the goaltender to trust his new goalie coach and listen to what
Tugnutt: Yes and he said, ‘You can do what
you want. You can stop the puck however you want, but this is what I want from
you.’ So my goal was to do that and make my saves and by the end of it, it was
kind of like, yeah that’s pretty good.
At the end of the day you have to make more
saves than the guy at the other end of the ice and you know what the hard part
is – I know that they are going through it in Edmonton right now — it just seems that
nothing can go right for those poor guys. I was there in the early years with Quebec, fighting through
every game saying nothing’s ever going to go right and it’s hard to come out of
that. But as I keep saying, you’ve got to stay positive and I’m one big save
away. I’m one big save away from turning this thing around. And when that save
comes and the Oilers win the game and the reason why was that one big save, you
hope that that next day at practice you have a little air under your feet and
off you go.
ONE BIG SAVE
Did it turn that easy sometimes for you? You would make that one big save and
then the next day at practice you felt that much better?
Tugnutt: It does happen. It happens that
fast. It’s amazing, you win a game, you make the save, but the thing is that
you still have to win the game. So you make that save, you win the game,
everybody is excited, everybody is happy, you’re feeling good about yourself
again, you’re feeling you can make those saves and that’s the way it turns.
And the other thing too is whether you like
it or not, your team has to help you too. There has to be some help. Maybe
there’s an open net and your defenceman flies across and stops the open net,
maybe that’s what turns it. But you can’t solely just say the reason is just
strictly goaltending. You need help from your teammates as well.
Gregor: I want to go back to your original point about the confidence factor.
A lot of that will come from the goalie himself. When you have a guy who is struggling
handling the puck, do you then as a goalie coach do you say, ‘for now less is
more, just stay in the net’ or do you want the guy to stay aggressive and make
better puck handling decisions?
Tugnutt: Well, some guys build off of puck
handling. Some goalies, they’re game improves by making good plays with the
puck. Saying that, in today’s game there is so much video on other teams. OK
this is Ben Scrivens going behind the net, he always goes up the strong side so
the forecheck reads that and they prepare for that.
So to answer your question, if it’s
becoming an issue, the defense aren’t going to like it, but my poor teammates
in Dallas when I was in Dallas and Marty Turco was my partner, they knew when I
was playing it was going to be a different game. [Laughs] And so they knew they
were coming back for pucks, they knew they were going to get hit and maybe that’s
why they wanted me out of the game so quickly so they could get Marty back in. (laughs
But no, at the end, if you’re not good at
it, there’s nothing worse than a goalie that thinks he’s good at it, and isn’t.
So sometimes maybe the easy play is you go back and you set the puck behind the
net and you get the heck out of the way. Maybe you simplify it. I’m not sure exactly
what the coaching staff in Edmonton
is saying. They likely are thinking: ‘Do we want our D to post in the corners, do
we want this do we want that?’ And then it’s just all about execution and making
the play. But if you’re (goalie) going to make the play, it’s got to be firm
though. You can’t be like ‘I hope, I hope.’ If you’re doing that you’re making
the wrong thing. It’s better to just say in the net.
How does the role of the goalie coach work in the NHL?
Tugnutt: Goaltending is so mental. It’s
nice to have somebody there that has maybe gone through it or can help from
that standpoint to realize what you need and to get you where you have to be.
But I think the goalie coach today in the National Hockey League is kind of the
middle guy between the coaches and the goalie.
Not a lot of coaches really want to
associate themselves with the goalies and talk to them, because they’re just
like what you said — ‘we just want you to stop the puck, that’s all we care
about’. So the guy in the middle becomes the goalie coach who has to either
defend or attack his own goalie based on how he is performing. So you might get
some situations where a goalie coach might say ‘he’s doing nothing wrong, he
had a good game today.’
[And the coach says] ‘Well we lost 5-4.’
‘He had a good game today. I have no issues
with the goals.’
And then he’s the guy arguing with the
coach rather than the goalie himself. So instead of the goalie hearing a coach
hating his game, hating the way that he’s playing, the goalie coach is taking
that and now he’s going to try and get
that guy going without him knowing that the coach basically has no confidence
Can you build a goalie’s confidence in practice or does it have to come in a game?
Tugnutt: It eventually comes through the
game, but what I like to do is when the confidence is struggling is to do high
percentage saves, saves that you would expect the goalie to make all of the
time. Do drills around that.
The two key areas that I look for with
goalies when I’m worried about confidence is do they know were the puck is all
of the time? And if they don’t know where the puck is all of the time that
tells me they’re not seeing it, that tells me they’re not seeing it come off of
the blade, and they’re not tracking it. And by tracking it I mean as it hits the
body, you see it hit you, you see it leave the body and I’m always looking to
see if my guys see the puck hit them and see it leave their body.
That’s the one area I always focused on is
make sure you always see the puck hit the body. And if
you do that sometimes you’re going to be slow, sometimes your eyes aren’t as
fast, but eventually you catch up to it and that’s where you have to get to.
to lead back to what you said, the longer shots, watch it into the body, watch
it go into the corner and then they move a little bit closer, same thing, same
thing, and the whole idea is all of a sudden they are taking fifteen foot shots
and you’re watching your goalie follow it right into his blocker, into the
corner and you go ‘OK he’s seeing it well now. ‘
It is difficult to get an exact read on how much of an impact, positively or negatively, a goalie coach is having on his goalies. I agree with Tugnutt, that ultimately it comes down to stopping pucks and over the past few seasons that hasn’t happened in Edmonton.
The funny thing is that Devan Dubnyk had a .920sv% in 2013 with Freddy Chabot, but last year he only had a .894sv% under Chabot. Did the goalie coach teach him different things? Nope, but Dubnyk did admit he lost confidence early in the season and he couldn’t regain it. Tugnutt mentioned the most important job of a goalie coach is to build that confidence.
This year in Arizona Dubnyk has a .926sv% and everyone says it is solely due to Sean Burke. Burke has helped him no doubt, but then why does Mike Smith have an ugly .893sv%? He is also working with Burke. Smith has lost his confidence this year and he’s struggling to find it.
The Oilers needed to make a goaltending change because they’d have horrible results from numerous goalies during the previous five seasons, but Chabot shouldn’t take all the blame. The goalies need to play better and the team needs to play better in front of them.
The biggest challenge for new goalie coach Dustin Schwartz will be trying to help Viktor Fasth and Ben Scrivens regain their confidence. And when they do, all three of them will try and maintain it. The team could help out as well, by not allowing point blank shots night after night.
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