One of my favorite quotesof all time is,
when the student is ready the teacher appears.
I have been truly blessed throughout my playing career to have met and worked with what I feel are the best in the business. I have always believed that success leaves a trail to be followed, and that it is up to you as an individual to put in the work that’s necessary to succeed. All I ever prayed for as a youngster was a blueprint to succeed, and I promised to have the discipline necessary to follow it. Here is my blueprint and the main influences that help me construct it: a highlight of a few of the most influential coaches I have worked with throughout my playing career.
Jim Park – 9 year pro and owner operator, Jim Park Goalie Schools, Toronto, Ontario.
Jim is a master of the fundamentals. For children ages 7-12, mastering the fundamentals should be the only focus. Jim has owned and operated Jim Park Goaltending in Toronto, Ontario, Canada for over 30 years. Without the foundation of fundamentals necessary to compete, a young goalie will not be able to get out of the starting blocks and begin to run the race. I began working with Jim when I became a goalie at age 11, and at 16 I became one of the camp’s head instructors, while I was playing for the Sudbury Wolves OHL. Jim’s school taught me how to skate, butterfly, recover, and track the puck with my eyes while moving my torso into the puck. Jim’s love for the game is contagious. I was only a 16-year-old playing major junior trying to turn hockey into a profession, but even then I knew coaching was in my blood. I even dreamed of one day opening a goalie school myself.
Francois Allaire – Goaltender Coach Toronto Maple Leafs, Anaheim Ducks, Montreal Canadians.
When I was 18, I met the legendary Francois Allaire. It all began with a phone call from my friend Zac Bierk (Tampa Bay Lightening, Phoenix Coyotes NHL). Zac called me up and said, “Hey, Vally — I think if we meet this goalie guru in Montreal, train with him for two days and stay at his house,
we’ll play in the NHL someday.
That was all I needed to hear. I begged my father for the $1,500 camp fee, and promised to pay him back after I signed my first NHL contract! I should mention I wasn’t even drafted yet.
Staying at Francois’ house was the experience of a lifetime. On the first night we were there, Colorado was playing Florida in the seventh game of the 1996 Stanley Cup Final. Francois’ prized goaltender student Patrick Roy would play six periods of shutout hockey that night to capture the Stanley Cup with a 1-0 win — plus the Conn Smyth trophy for playoff MVP. Zac and I went on the ice twice a day for intense training sessions with Francois, and did chalk talk and video in the evenings. On the drive home, Zac and I talked endlessly about what we had learned and how lucky we were. The Los Angeles Kings drafted me the following spring, while Zac played for the Tampa Bay Lighting NHL and later started his Francois Allaire-inspired hockey school in Peterborough, Ontario. Zac was nice enough to let me stay at his house and I assisted him for the next two summers at his weeklong camp. Working with Francois was my point of ignition. I now believed I had the correct information to be a pro. I just needed to put the work in and apply it.
John Elkins (Saint John’s Flames AHL)
When I first met John, he was running a Saturday night goalie school in Richmond Hill, Ontario for my minor hockey organization, the Richmond Hill Vaughn Kings AAA. I wasn’t crazy about working with him because I was Jim Parks’ guy. (I think this happens a lot with kids, where they think they need to remain loyal to their coach.) At that time, I completely shut him off and didn’t listen to him. Five or so years later, John established himself as the leader of the pack in the Southern Ontario goalie school market. In 1998, I attended the Calgary Flames NHL Rookie camp, which John led. I learned a lot because this time because I was open and eager to learn from him. I was so impressed I agreed to work for him for a few weeks at his goalie school, and saw first-hand what a well-run and -disciplined camp looked like. John is a goalie school guru who has helped a lot of kids achieve their childhood dreams over the past 20 years.
Stefan Lunner – Goaltender Coach, New York Islanders (1998-99)
Stefan was Tommy Salo’s goaltending coach from Sweden. The New York Islanders hired Stefan in the summer of 1998. Ironically, we would cross paths again more than 12 years later in Moscow, where Stef was my coach while I was playing for the CSKA in the KHL.Stef is the best hockey guy I’ve met for compiling the correct and relevant data and relaying it to coaching. Identifying problems in technique, strategy and structure are all things that Stef opened my eyes to. Practices with Stef were intense and we not only worked hard, but we worked smart.
Stefan is the first goalie and only coach that I had met who really stressed to his goalies the importance of the “entire team” philosophy. Stefan and I both agree that this is the next step in the development of the goalie’s game, and a final, necessary step needed to make the team/goalie connection that you need to succeed. Generally speaking, beyond small variances in technique, goaltenders eventually come to a limit in development. The next step is team system play, rather than sending the team’s goalie and coach to the far end of the ice working on individual stuff.
Gilles Gilbert – NHL Goaltender 13 years and Goaltender coach for New York Islanders (1999-2001)
Gilles was a great influence on me in my early playing years of professional hockey. Gilles introduced to me the value of the “screen board” in training and other visual aids commonly used at camps to help a goaltender track the puck with their eyes. Gilles was also extremely influential in the way he taught me how to handle the puck and, most importantly, in what areas and when. Staying out of trouble when handling the puck is the most important thing for a hockey goaltender. As Gilles used to say, “something good should happen in the ten seconds the puck leaves your stick and the puck should be on its way out of your zone.” Setting up on the backhand and using the soft spots on the glass and in the corners were ways Gilles taught me to ensure that even in worst-case scenario, the puck was out of harm’s way.
Billy Smith – 18 NHL Goaltender New York Islanders, Goalie Coach New York Islanders and Florida Panthers NHL.
Billy was a classic.
Anyone who followed hockey during his era knows that. Billy was an extremely colorful coach who understood the importance of having fun and competing as soon as the workday begins. Billy made me understand that better than anyone. When practice started it was all business, and when Rick DiPietro and I played together in Bridgeport AHL Billy showed us how to whack and attack players in front of our net. (Even our own players in practice!) Competing in practice like you’re in game is something I carried with me during my career, from that point forward.
Billy was also major a influence in my glove positioning. He had me change my hand location from fingers down to a higher hand position at 2 o’clock. He also had me practice with a golf ball against a brick wall from 8-10 feet. After a few tough ones off the shins, I got my glove around to catch everything – and it translated well onto the ice, too.
Sudarshan Maharaj – Goalie coach New York Islander 2003 – present
Thank God for “Sudsie”!!
I met Sudsie on a recommendation from my former agent Mike Gillis (current G.M. Vancouver Canucks NHL). Mike mentioned to me that there was a goalie coach in Toronto starting to make a name for himself and I should give him a try. Well, I was ready, and the teacher appeared.
Halfway through our first skate together, Sudsie asked me to drop into a butterfly at the corner of my crease facing the faceoff dot, and I did. Then, he asked me to stay down and push in a butterfly slide to my far post…I only made it half way! I was embarrassed. He sensed my embarrassment and he said, “Don’t worry, it’s just repetition…you’ll get it.” I was leaving training camp in Lake Placid, NY with the Islanders in just a few weeks. I knew I had my work cut out for me. I skated that summer and every summer thereafter privately with Sudsie for three days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I remember thinking half way through my first professional season how badly I wanted the summer with Sudsie to start, so I could improve and possibly play in the NHL. Well, that fall I had the training camp of my life, all thanks to Sudsie. He helped me get my foot in the door. March 16th in my second year as a pro I started my first NHL game against Atlanta. We won 3-2, and I was named the first star of the game. I called Sudsie after from the street corner before I went to dinner with the guys and I cried. I couldn’t have been more fortunate then to have the structure and confidence his training gave me going into that season. I’m forever grateful.
Ironically, that year I paid it forward and introduced Kevin Weeks and, later, Rick DiPietro to Sudsie. Sudsie signed with the Islanders in 2003 and he had his dream come true, too.
Pete Peters – NHL Goaltender 13 years, Goalie coach Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers, currently Anaheim Ducks.
I was only with the Oilers for a short time. I dressed only 24 games that season, but with an extensive training camp and time up, I still got in a fair amount of time with Pete during our private sessions together. The one thing that sticks out about Pete with me is his ability to coach “the angles,” which I believe is the most overlooked fundamental in all of goaltending. In most cases, the goalie goes on the ice and is expected to know where the net is. Pete taught me how to map the ice off with rope tied to the posts and spray-paint quadrants on the ice. When the player steps into the quadrant you know you can’t be beat — unless, of course, you lose your focus. Also, you have to visualize a dotted line that separates your body into two equal parts. That is where the puck lies.
From the time I worked with Pete until now I still visualize myself being big in his quadrants. I always skate from the top of my crease lining up as I shuffle down to my post cutting my crease down, but remaining big in my mind. Confidence is absolutely everything to us as goalies, from Mites to NHL, and his work in those areas with me gave me the confidence to know that I can’t be beat unless I beat myself.
Benoit Allaire – Goalie Coach Montreal Canadiens, Phoenix Coyotes, and currently New York Rangers.
That is what I still call Benny to this day. Benny introduced more things than I can count to my game. I know a lot of hockey fans would say 2004-2005 was a lost season, but Benny made it the turning point in my career. I was pegged as the backup to reigning MVP and my great friend, Jason LaBarbera. Fortunately, for “Barbs” and I, because of that season’s NHL lockout, Benny was with us in Hartford, CT, instead of in New York working with the Rangers. By season’s end, we were splitting time and we shared the “Les Brinkley” trophy for fewest goals against.
Ben taught us how to cut down our crease and get from side to side on our feet rather than over-challenging in the dead angle areas of the ice. Benoit made me feel like I was always in position and beating the pass before it would even be received. I felt huge. I was conserving energy in games that I had previously burned by running around. I learned to properly read the play by locating, getting the correct information and than making perfect save selection.
After a season in Russia in 2005-2006, I resigned with the Rangers, mostly because Benny was there. It was my first one-way NHL contract after my 8th year pro. I know Benoit had a lot to do with that. Benoit is a big reason why I want to coach. I have too much information not to share it.
Another building block was attending Benoit’s goalie school that summer as a student and experiencing how a great pro camp is run. One of Benny‘s lasting impacts on my game and coaching is the practice of watching video. After each game that Henrik Lundqvist and I played for New York, Benny would edit the tape and we would watch it the next day after practice.
Ben was a really different coach. Being a pro and having the fundamentals down doesn’t mean that you don’t make stupid mistakes sometimes. Instead of harping on the negatives, Ben always promotes the positive in his video sessions. He believes that the more positive things we see, the more they will show up in the future. That was true for practice, too. Benny always says, “If you work hard in practice, then the games will be easy.” I do the same thing when I’m working with my goalies now because I know how it feels.
Mike Gillis – Current G.M. and President Vancouver Canucks NHL
Dan Palango – Current chief scout Ontario region Vancouver Canucks NHL
Mike Gillis was my agent for nearly 16 years before he closed the agency to help the Vancouver Canucks grow into an NHL powerhouse in 2007. Mike was also someone I deeply admired as a mentor and advisor on everything hockey. How Mike became my agent was complete by chance. I was not a top flight NHL prospect by any means. Mike’s assistant at the time was Dan Palango. Dan ran into my father who was wearing my Toronto Metro All Stars team jacket with my number 33 on it while working in the mall as an electrician. I guess I had a few good games that Dan had seen that previous weekend at a showcase in Toronto and Dan was familiar with my last name because his wife mother’s maiden name was Valiquette. One thing leads to another and Mike took me on as his first player that was a non-NHLer. The early 1990’s in Toronto was a competitive market for agents as they were just starting to make good money for their players in the changing market that saw the first generation of big signing bonuses and lucrative long term contracts. This was at that time when most agents in the greater metropolitan Toronto area would put a blanket over a hundred or so players from each birth year and hope for the best. For a player at that time you had to show your worth in the first season in the Ontario Hockey League (top feeder league to the NHL) or you would have a heard time getting a call back. Having Mike and Dan as my agents gave me a leg up on everyone I was competing against early in my career. Dan practically held my hand through my first few seasons in the OHL.
Steve, hockey is a marathon not a sprint
One of my favorite quotes of his was when I was down in the dumps, “Steve, if you play well there will always be a place to play”. His guidance proved to me why great mentoring is so important. You need someone to relate and talk some sense into you when things aren’t going your way. You don’t need an agent, advisor or mentor when things are going great it is when things are going poorly that you really need the help. Mike even had me move up to his home town Kingston, Ont for the summers and learn to train, eat and sleep hockey in preparation for my career. Mike and Dan showed me the way. I never felt like they were working for me, more like I was working for them. The better condition I was in mentally and physically I knew the easier their job would be in getting me an NHL contract. These dreams came true when both Mike and Dan worked diligently in getting me my first NHL contract with the New York Islanders in the summer of 1998 and every contract thereafter. I was an afterthought at best at the time I met both Mike and Dan and I was fortunate enough to start working with them and they instilled a belief in myself that I could not have done alone. As other players struggled for guidance I was thriving. That is why I believe that getting the proper mentorship is essential to the growth of any aspiring young hockey player. My learning in those early years made it easy to overcome setbacks along the way that other players my age of higher caliber ran from. My plan moving forward with the goalie school is mentoring the young guys and parents I work with in those critical years from 14-21 when the drop off happens and providing them with options to work with the best in the agency and advisor business. I know who they are. Hockey isn’t just a game played on the ice in fact, it is an even bigger game played off of it and I will provide my goalies with the help along the way when their in need of that guidance. I want to help any way I can. Being through it affords me that gift.
|Smiths Falls Bears||CJHL||21||3.53||–|
|1998-1999||Lowell Lock Monsters||AHL||1||3.05||.885|
|Hampton Roads Admirals||ECHL||31||2.94||.916|
|New York Islanders||NHL||6||1.87||.949|
|Lowell Lock Monsters||AHL||14||2.97||.901|
|2001-2002||Bridgeport Sound Tigers||AHL||20||2.52||.923|
|2002-2003||Bridgeport Sound Tigers||AHL||34||2.63||.912|
|Hartford Wolf Pack||AHL||7||2.25||.928|
|New York Rangers||NHL||2||3.03||.915|
|2004-2005||Hartford Wolf Pack||AHL||35||1.77||.935|
|2006-2007||New York Rangers||NHL||3||3.14||.867|
|Hartford Wolf Pack||AHL||30||2.34||.909|
|2007-2008||New York Rangers||NHL||13||2.19||.916|
|2008-2009||New York Rangers||NHL||15||2.84||.907|
|2009-2010||New York Rangers||NHL||6||3.74||.852|
|Hartford Wolf Pack||AHL||11||3.73||.877|
|2011-2012||Bridgeport Sound Tigers||AHL||0||–||–|
Coaches and Influencers
Warren Strelow – San Jose Sharks 2000-2003
I believe coaching is teaching at the most fundamental level. If a coach can have the ability get through to a student, and still be open to learning himself as a coach, then great things can be accomplished. Throughout my years of playing professional hockey, I have had a number of really great experiences and coaches, but there is one coach that really stands out for me: the great Warren Strelow.
I had the extreme pleasure of being coached by Warren Strelow shortly after I was drafted out of Providence College at the end of my sophomore season. I was Second Team All American and went to the NCAA tournament that year. Still not expecting to be drafted at all, you could imagine my surprise and excitement being awoken from my sleep on the couch in Saskatchewan to be told I was taken by the San Jose Sharks in the 5th round.
Our first meeting was when I stepped off the plane in the Twin cities. Warren picked me up to take me to White Bear Lake for my first Pro Goalie Camp. This was a two-week intensive training camp for all San Jose goalies that took place before the main training camp. Warren didn’t have much to say.
He was calm, friendly, and very down to earth. He reminded me of what my Grandpa would be like. Warren was also an interesting guy, with a different view of how goalies should be coached. At the time San Jose had 8 goalies under contract, including Steve Shields, Evgenie Nabokov, Mikka Kiprusoff, Vesa Toskala, Johan Helberg, Terry Friesen, Shamus Kotyk, and myself. Thomas Greiss and Dimitri Patzold were later added to the mix while I was still there. I was intimidated and also a bit naive thinking I would crack the San Jose roster that first year if “I could just show them I could play.” Once that bubble burst, I decided to get as much as I could out of the camps that were filled with such great goalies, and the best goalie coach.
There are two things I really remember Warren saying out of the obvious vast book of knowledge that he imparted:
“It’s my goal to have you all play in the NHL. You can’t all play for San Jose, but we want you all to play in the NHL.”The other being:“I want to make you the best goalie you can be, within your style.”
This second one is something that I have adopted and use in my coaching today.
Warren had a great way of telling you what you needed to hear. Not just what he thought, but what he thought would help you better understand. All but one goalie in that list played in the NHL.
Wayne Thomas – San Jose Sharks 2000-2003
Just as incredible as Warren, behind the scenes in San Jose was Wayne Thomas. Long-time friend and Assistant GM of the San Jose Sharks, Wayne was (and still is) a goaltending master in his own right. Warren and Wayne often worked on the goalies together, sharing ideas and basically splitting the duties. Wayne was another unbelievable influence in my life. He showed me the ability to balance true friendship and a management relationship, which is unheard of in today’s game. For me, he was the unsung hero of the San Jose Sharks goaltending system which was second-to-none at the time.
Bob Mason – Minnesota Wild 2004-2007
I didn’t get to spend a whole lot of time with Bob as my call-ups to the NHL with Minnesota were not as frequent. Still, Bob always had a great set of drills and a funny disposition that I really enjoyed. Coming to camp with him I knew what I was getting: a fair shot to be a part of the organization. His time was mostly dedicated to the NHL team, but when I worked with Bob it was always simple yet productive. I went on to the AHL Allstar team my first year in the organization, finished first in the league statistics, and won the lowest combined GAA Award called the Harry Haps Holmes Award.
Stephan Lunner – CSKA MOSCOW 2007-2008
I share this goalie coaching experience with Steve. Steve and I both worked with “Steph” in Moscow. As you can imaging, playing in Moscow comes with quite the lifestyle change. As a goalie, being on top of the mental side of your life is so important. Steph really helped me see this. We enjoyed several coffees in the morning together, and several dinners sharing our different life experiences in Moscow (in order to vent basically). It really helped. On the technical side, working with Steph I started to actually see the impact that the quality of shots and situations had on my game. I really started to think outside the box, stop just looking at myself, and see the game as a whole. That came from Steph.
Bob Essensa – Boston Briuns 2008-2009
Working with Bob was a great pleasure. He was one of the goalie greats of the past and I can not forget my old hockey cards of him playing with the Winnipeg Jets. This was also my last season in North America. Even though the results of how I played weren’t exactly how I wanted, I had a number
of great experiences being with the Bruins. I was able to make friends with two goalie greats: Tim Thomas, and Tuuka Rask. Obviously Bob had to be doing something right winning the Stanley Cup that year. Bob had a simple and traditional coaching style, and a never ending repertoire of funny
one-liners to ease any tension.
Dave Rook – HCAP Swiss National League A 2010-2011
Another very good coach, Dave was formerly the goalie coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets, and current NHL goalie Steve Mason. He really saw that I was experienced at this point. He brought an NHL style of coaching that I liked, and also allowed me to really add my own insight and input. I
was able to voice any questions or changes that I wanted to make in order self- improve. As I was growing as a player, my knowledge and confidence were increasing, and I really felt like I shifted this season into making my own way. Dave helped transition me into this.
Pauli Jaks – HCAP Swiss National League A 2012-2014
Pauli was the first Swiss goalie to ever play an NHL game. Since Pauli paved the way, the Swiss goalie market has shot up, producing players like Jonas Hiller, Thobias Stephen, and newcomer Reto Berra. Pauli and I had a great relationship. He really allowed me to control my ice. He knew what was good for me to maintain my game, and keep myself at the top the Swiss National League. We became good friends and I stay in touch with Pauli. He has been and still is the goalie coach for the Swiss Junior National Team.
Steve Valiquette 2012- Present
I had known of Steve for may years before 2012. We played several games against each other in the AHL. However, it wasn’t until a few years ago that we really started to connect. What are the chances that two Canadian, former NHL goalies end up living in the same town in Connecticut? The script goes on and on, and the endless connections we had to each other could not be ignored. And then we started talking shop! This is where the really interesting part of our journey began. Steve began to open my eyes to another way of looking at the game, as well as my life as an overall person. I, of coarse, had my own experience to add and I feel like we really have an incredible partnership and have created an unmatched learning environment for goaltenders. We feed off of each other, work together, and complement each other’s coaching style. We both bring something unique to the table and are able to unite that in the common goal. We can’t predict what is going to happen next, but I am very excited to be working together with Steve.