Ask A Pro: Predators goalie coach great Mitch Korn
From pre-teens to aspiring pros to old-timers, one of NHL’s best coaches for the last 20 years has great advice for all goalies
At a time when a lot of NHL organizations still don’t appear to fully understand the importance of a good goalie coach, Mitch Korn stands as one of the greatest examples of just how much it can mean to an organization.
Celebrating 20 years in the NHL and more than 30 years coaching goalies overall, Korn has helped improve the play of legends like Grant Fuhr and six-time Vezina Trophy winner Dominik Hasek. So it’s saying something that his greatest work has come in 13 seasons of relative anonymity in Nashville, which must explain why Korn’s name is not whispered in mainstream media circles in the same breath as current Maple Leafs goalie guru Francois Allaire. That’s OK. Korn’s work within the budget-challenged Predators organization speaks for itself.
From Tomas Vokoun to Chris Mason to Dan Ellis and now with nearly 13-feet of goalies in Scandinavian monsters Pekka Rinne and Anders Lindback (and don’t forget AHL All Star Mark Dekanich in the minors), Korn continues to turn out top puck stoppers for the Predators, with the next one always ready to pick up where the last left off, usually because their success in Nashville has made it too expensive to keep them there.
Korn, a New York City native, began his college career between the pipes at Kent State in the late 1970s and coached there briefly before moving to the University of Miami Ohio in 1981, where he not only nurtured the goaltenders, but an entire hockey program from inception to Division 1 status. Chosen as “one of the top 10 Genius’ in hockey” by The Hockey News last summer, Korn’s influence extends well beyond those playing the position, to those coaching it, a list that includes names like Mike Valley (Dallas), Corey Hirsch (St. Louis), Clint Malarchuk (Atlanta), Mike Dunham (Islanders), Steve McKichan (formerly Toronto), and countless others now influencing the next generation of goaltending greats at every level of the game.
For more great goaltending knowledge and to learn how to work directly with Mitch, please visit his Korn Camp on line.
So imagine how thrilled we were at InGoal Magazine when Korn, who has always been among our favourite conversations for anything and everything to do with goaltending at any level, agreed to take questions from our readers as well. Judging by the influx of questions, so were you.
In fact, there were so many questions, and Korn was so gracious with his time and the in-depth answers he provided, we needed to split this week’s Ask A Pro into two segments. Subscribers to the FREE InGoal weekly newsletter got this Part 1 post earlier in the week, and will also get Part 2 before it becomes public so be sure to sign up for your chance to ask NHL goalies and coaches questions. (February 14 editor’s note: Part 2 is now public, check it out here).
So, with just one more delay – this brief urging to check out Mitch Korn’s website and hockey schools – let’s get to Part 1 of your questions for this week’s InGoal Magazine Ask A Pro with Mitch Korn:
Our first question comes from InGoal Magazine subscriber Adam Beukeboom:
“Mitch, I thought it was funny you were the Ask a Pro this week because I had just come back from a Calgary Flames game and they were playing the Predators. I got to meet the coach of the Predators and we started talking and he suggested I check out your website. Anyways, my question is: What is the difference between pro goalies and junior goalies and what does it take to make that jump? I am sixteen years old and next year is my draft year so I want to be as good as any pro goalie so that I will not only get looked at to be drafted but be ready to play at the next level as well. Thanks.”
Mitch Korn: “The difference really isn’t the goalie, the difference is the players. The pro players are faster, bigger, stronger. They are more skilled and therefore they create more options on plays. They shoot the puck harder. There is more traffic. And so the junior guys making the jump to pro, for me, is harder than an American League guy making the jump to the National League because it is such a difference. Everybody playing pro was probably close to, or a star on their team and playing on the top-two lines, and now they all gather at the pro level and so it is a whole new world for a junior goalie going to pro.
“Not only are the shooters more skilled at shooting and picking spots, but they are more skilled at tipping, deflecting, making plays, being deceptive, and it really becomes a huge challenge. There’s so much more traffic, so many more redirects, and it’s so much harder to play goal. And rebounds at the junior level hurt, but rebounds at the pro level kill.
“So Adam, you’ve got to excel at the level you are playing at in order to be looked at, to be scouted, and to have a chance to be drafted, both at the junior level and at the pro level.”
InGoal reader Dan Rodis asks: “I have two questions: How do you tell your goalies stay ready if you only see the puck every 4-5 minutes or so? And what do you do to stay focused when the puck is in the other end for minutes at a time? Thank you so much.”
Mitch Korn: “When you start getting to the higher levels of hockey, the game is so mental. And it’s not only mental in terms of reading and reacting to play, it’s mental in terms of staying focused for long periods of time and being able to, during TV timeouts or between periods, come down, and then focus up again. So they need to be able to watch the game and keep their mind clear.
“The worst thing that can happen to a goalie is when the puck is at the other end if they start talking to themselves. And then they get distracted or they get noise in the system. How many times does a goalie say ‘I gotta do well, the other guy just made five great saves, what if the next chance is a breakaway? Am I ready for it?’ When that happens, you are in trouble, it’s just that slight distraction that makes it difficult, or takes away from focus.
“We’ve all heard of goalies that have struggled when they have gone to team where they are not busy. There are better busy goalies and then there are guys that have been able to adapt to not being busy. Marty Brodeur is a great example of a guy over the years who was able to handle not being busy We all knew about the old Ken Dryden scenario of not being busy and then if you remember guys like Cujo, who was used to being busy, when he went to Detroit it was a challenge and a huge adjustment. Hasek, who came form Buffalo to Detroit, was used to being busy and that was a huge challenge and adjustment. It is not easy.”
InGoal subscriber James Weise asks: “How have the attributes that you want in a prospect changed in the time that you have been in the NHL? Is height being stressed now a lot more than in the past?”
Mitch Korn: “I used to talk about flexibility. Now I talk about contort-ability. You see I think a lot of the lower body flexibility, the need for it in standard situations has somewhat disappeared because of the pads. And they wear them loose and they rotate on their leg, and I don’t think they need the kind of flexibility they used to need in ordinary situations. But in special situations the ability to contort is still valuable, and there is no piece of equipment that can make a guy be flexible enough to contort in scramble situations.
“Now let’s look at this question for what it is. What’s changed? The first, most important thing is it’s still skill. It’s always been skill. Skill is the single most important thing. The second most important thing is the understanding that it is a game of square footage. And because of traffic and redirects and the speed of the game and the precision of the shots, size has become a factor. Square footage. Now you need to find, and we are finding, guys that are big and skilled. Traditionally the smaller guys were a little more skilled than the bigger guys, and the bigger guys were a little slower, a little more cumbersome than the smaller guys. But that’s not true anymore. So what are we looking for now? We’re looking for the most-skilled, biggest guy we can find.”
These next two questions seemed to go hand in hand, so Mitch answered them together.
InGoal reader Cole Burack asked: “What scouting event would you suggest that wouldn’t be just watching the forwards and defense, but an actual goalie scouting event that they didn’t just give you 30 minutes with maybe 2 coaches watching?” And Mary Kruckenberg asks: “What do you think of taking HS goalies to showcase events (example: EHK in Chicago this April) to be seen-how useful is that compared to going to the Jr A tier III teams you are interested in and trying out for them?”
Mitch Korn: “I think they kind of go together. I am not a fan of showcases. In too many cases it becomes a moneymaker for those putting it on, and not necessarily a true indication of a goalie’s skill. Traditionally a showcase will have three goalies on a team, almost like the All Star Game, and you play a period and you might have great stats because you have no shots or you might have bad stats because they gave up three breakaways. It’s just not, in my opinion, especially the showcases to try and get you on a junior team or a pro team, so often these teams already have their goalies picked, or they’ve already drafted their goalies. I know there are showcases for high school seniors and I would suspect, as I understand it that tends to be more of a Division 3, walk-on kind of environment. You see these scouting things all over the place and I get kids calling me asking if they should go and in goal I just find they get lost.
“Even individual team tryouts often make it very hard to separate the goalies. There’s no real way. You can do some drills, but there tends to be too many goalies. You can do some scrimmages but what often happens, and this is a terrible thing, but often it is not how they play but how they look. Is their gear really good? Does it match? Unfortunately there are coaches and evaluators that get influenced, not by the goalie’s play, but by the goalie’s appearance. Size is certainly part of that, but often it’s his gear. How many times have you walked in a rink and seen somebody who looks like a goalie, and it doesn’t mean that they are. The same can be true even with how a goalie looks technically: changing the leg they get up on is easy but teaching goalie sense is hard.”
Thanks to our readers for all the great questions, and to Mitch for taking so much time to answer them. Be sure to keep your eyes open for Part 2 of our Ask a Pro with Mitch later this week, and don’t forget to send your questions for next week’s Ask a Pro with Chicago Rookie of the Year candidate Corey Crawford.