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Ask-a-Pro with Dallas Stars Goalie Coach Mike Valley

Ask-a-Pro with Dallas Stars Goalie Coach Mike Valley
Dallas Goalie Coach Mike Valley and ex-Stars stopper Marty Turco

As the goalie coach in Dallas the last two seasons, Mike Valley has adjusted his approach to fit a variety of unique goaltenders, from ex-Stars stopper Marty Turco (pictured here), to Alex Auld to Andrew Raycroft and Kari Lehtonen.

Mike Valley is in the midst of his second season as the goaltending coach for the Dallas Stars.

At age 34, Valley is also the youngest goalie guru in the NHL.

Don’t confuse either for lack of experience.

In addition to working with countless good coaches during his own career, Valley has successfully developed and work with goaltenders at all ages and levels, from minor hockey to ones currently playing in the NHL, AHL, ECHL, NCAA, and on the U.S. National Program, a list that includes Brian Elliott, Al Montoya and Niklas Backstrom.

Before Valley took over the goalie coaching duties in Dallas last season, which at the time included working with Marty Turco, who was only one year older and a former opponent from their college hockey days, he spent six seasons playing professionally.

It started with a signing by his hometown Vancouver Canucks out of the University of Wisconsin in 1998, and a couple of seasons with their farm team in the American Hockey League, and continued overseas with stints in the Swedish Elite League before returning to North America for a couple more seasons in the minors leading up the lockout, when he returned to the university to complete his degree.
Elite Goalies Logo
Valley also started Elite Goalies, a high performance training system for goaltenders that offers everything from camps, clinics and consulting, to a recently launched, complete and impressive online training program that features everything from video analysis to scouting to question and answer sessions with Valley and an impressive list of staff that includes fellow former and current professional and college goaltenders.

The Elite Goalies system “is dedicated to a philosophy in which goalies improve through analysis, repetition, education and correction. By teaching goalies how to stay balanced psychologically, they are able to better control their environment and execute their technique on a more consistent basis. Because we stress the power of the mind in order to increase the power of the body, our members follow the teachings of the Martial Arts.”

The interactive site is definitely worth checking out, whether you are a goalie, a goalie parent, or a goalie coach.

In the meantime, Valley, who also spent the 2008-09 season working as an assistant with long-time Nashville Predators goaltending guru Mitch Korn before taking the Dallas job, was kind enough to sit down with InGoal Magazine this weekend and answer some of our readers’ questions:

InGoal Magazine subscriber William writes: I am a goalie/goalie coach from Sweden. I just read an article about you in the official Swedish Hockey magazine. Nice to read about your great work in Dallas! I’m currently in college over here and majoring in Coaching and Sports Management. Since there are not that many Swedish and/or European goalie coaches in the NHL, my question are: What are the biggest challenges for a European goalie coach going to North America and what do you consider to be the most important assets to make it as a goalie coach in the NHL?

Mike Valley:

“Hi William, great question. Having played the game at the professional level helps, but if you do not have that on your resume, then learning how top notch goaltenders think and behave, and using this knowledge to create training regimens that are unique enough to be tailored to the individual goalie, yet universal enough to be highly effective is the most important skill a coach can possess. Learning the style of play in North America is essential.

“The game is different and so coaching methods must change to suit both the game and the goalies. In addition, an unwavering commitment to the success of the athlete is second to none when measuring the success of a coach at any level.”

InGoal Magazine reader Daniel Rodis asks: How much talking do you do to your players and how does that vary on game day, off days, in game and after?

Dallas Stars Goalie Kari Lehtonen

Dallas Stars Goalie Kari Lehtonen likes to talk a lot about his game with coach Mike Valley, even between periods. (Photo by David Hutchison)

Mike Valley:

“Having strong communication with your goaltenders is key. Each goalie is going to be a little different, with some wanting more communication than others. For example, Kari Lehtonen and I talk a lot every day. He’s always looking to seek out as much information as possible because he’s such a student of the game. We do video work before games, and have discussions before each game, between periods and after each game. During our conversations, we talk about the positives, negatives, and how to move forward so he does not have to think too much about the past or the future, but instead is focused on the present.”

InGoal Magazine subscriber Tristan McLoughlin from Winnipeg, MB asks: How do you deal with weak goals against you? I’ve tried to focus on the next shot but I usually can’t shake it off. Did you use any tricks or something else to forget about it when you were a player? And how do you help your students deal with it now that you are a coach?

Mike Valley:

“As a player I did not consistently have someone there to coach me through difficult games. I did use some symbolic rituals to move forward. For example, soaking my face with water helped me to visualize a clean start after a tough spot in a game. The mental training aspect of the game is extremely important. The more you train your brain to stay in a forward thinking, positive state off the ice, the more successful you will be in shaking those weak moments on the ice.

“In doing so, you will find those weak moments becoming less frequent as you are able to quickly shift your focus back to the present. Remember, it’s important to always live in the now. Don’t let yourself get too high, and don’t let yourself get too low. All of the top goaltenders I have worked with have had an extraordinary ability to not only play the game this way, but to live their lives this way as well.”

InGoal Magazine reader Jordan W. from Vancouver asks: How much has the game changed since you played it in terms of technique and tactics? How do you stay up to date now that you don’t play anymore?

Mike Valley:

“I have been fortunate to both play together with and work with many talented goalies. As a coach each time I step on the ice with these goaltenders I’m always being challenged to learn new things and to think of new ways to both teach and communicate. There are two things that I can always count on as a coach: The first is that the game is always evolving and the second is that not every goalie can play the game the same way.

“Not everyone is built the same, nor do they possess the same strengths or weaknesses. Sometimes coaches can be guilty of trying to introduce too many complicated and restricted techniques which provide the goalies with less of an opportunity to utilize their instincts. Although coaches play an important role in all stages of development, goaltending techniques should not be too mechanical, complex or restrictive. If we cling blindly to them, goalies eventually become bound by their limitations. A goalie should simply move without any deliberation or without any form of paralysis.

“I try to tailor my teaching style to each student and I do this by listening to what each says and watching how each plays, both in games and during practice. I am a lifelong student of the game so I am always open to receiving new information and using it to the advantage of my athletes.”

InGoal Magazine reader Madelyn asks. What was the biggest/hardest transition from goalie to goalie coach, and how much do you rely on your playing days in your new role?

Mike Valley:

“One of the biggest transitions from player to coach is the structure of each day. Players put in their time at the rink, in the gym and during games. Coaches put in their time in these areas as well, but must also use their work day to stay up to date on what is happening with almost every other team in the league, especially teams coming up on the schedule.

“My job as a coach involves much more than maintaining my game and keeping physically fit. I have a lot of people who depend on me to have the information necessary for our success as a team. I remember how it felt to be a player. I will never forget the desire, the physical demands and the pressure of being in net. These memories serve me well when I’m coaching. Being able to draw on these past experiences helps me be a more effective coach.”

About The Author

Kevin Woodley

Kevin Woodley is a rec-league target and former contributing editor of the Goalie News magazine. He has written about the Vancouver Canucks and NHL for The Associated Press, USA Today, Sports Illustrated and The Hockey News for the last decade, and covered the 2010 Olympics for The AP.