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Ingoal Update: Even Jesus (Price) has a Goaltending Guru

Ingoal Update: Even Jesus (Price) has a Goaltending Guru

Plus: the bounty of Quebec goalie coaches in the big league; Ray Emery victorious in first NHL start in over a year; Optimus Reim’s return to earth short lived as he battles back for besmirched mentor Allaire; and a Cuban goalie trying to make his stake in the NHL, all in the March 17 update.

Carey Price

Carey Price has been able to relax and handle traffic without distraction this season

Quebec has historically been a real hotbed for producing goalies, from guys like Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur, to Roberto Luongo, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Mathieu Garon, Jose Theodore and Marty Biron all having solid or even stellar careers in the big league. So it should come as no surprise Quebec goalie coaches are behind the success of a number of the league’s best.

For those who may not be aware, there are currently six Quebeckers (seven if you give honorary status to Francophone New Brunswicker Rollie Melanson) currently plying their trade in the NHL:

-François Allaire (now in Toronto, but the guy behind Patrick Roy, Guy Hebert, JS Giguere)

-Benoit Allaire (New York Rangers and Henrik Lundqvist’s goalie coach who elaborated the science of playing deep on the goal line)

-Frantz Jean (Tampa Bay)

-Stephane Waite (Chicago; who helped bring a Stanley Cup with outstanding playoff work by Antti Niemi)

-Frederic Chabot (Edmonton)

-Rollie Melanson (Vancouver’s new coach who was a fixture in Montreal with Theodore, Garon, Huet)

-Pierre Groulx (Montreal’s new coach who had success in Florida and Ottawa with Vokoun, Anderson and Lalime)

Of this group, Pierre Groulx is arguably the least well known. Only 12 years ago he was the goalie coach of the Junior A Cumberland Grads, before getting on as the Ottawa Senators video analyst in 2004. When Jacques Martin went to Florida, he brought Groulx along, and it was under his tutelage that Tomas Vokoun had three of his best seasons and Craig Anderson transformed his career backbencher status into a solid NHL starter’s job with Colorado and later Ottawa.

Much was made of Melanson’s departure from Montreal, especially when his replacement came with such a thin resume.

Don’t be fooled. It is clear that the goalie situation in Montreal is just fine, with Price in an MVP’ish groove and Alex Auld as backup, confidant and mentor to the young phenom.

Montreal goalie Alex Auld

Alex Auld had lots of good things to say about Montreal goalie coach Pierre Groulx. Photo by Scott Slingsby.

“He is a star in the making,” Auld said of Groulx in an email to InGoal Magazine.

High praise, but Auld is not alone in uttering it. Sometimes less is more, and in the case of Groulx’s style as a goalie coach, that would certainly seem to be the case. Here’s what Price had to say to the Globe and Mail reporter Sean Gordon about his relationship with the young coach who has come to be known as “the goalie whisperer”:

It’s nice to have a guy you can just talk to, we don’t even talk about hockey a lot of the time, we just shoot it around, he’s a really easy guy to talk to, no matter what it is… Whenever we hit a rough spot, we just get right back to basics. We just get back right back out there and iron things out, we do a lot of work down low. Goaltending is all about feeling comfortable, when you start to get uncomfortable, that’s when you start breaking it down and getting it back to positioning. We do a lot of work off the post, because that seems to be the biggest problem that a lot of goalies have when they’re struggling.

Auld, meanwhile lauded Groulx’s low-key approach in the Globe and Mail article, which is perhaps a necessity in an environment as highly charged as the one in hockey-mad Montreal:

He’s definitely a student of the game, he learns a lot by watching and asking, listening to guys and being open. The big thing is he doesn’t try and change you and make you try to fit into a mould… Different goalie coaches will sometimes tend to over-complicate things, almost as if to justify their jobs. But when we go on early it’s usually just the basic little details that are kind of hard to work on in practice …but his job is also made easier by how talented Carey is. It’s a very good fit, the three of us.

Groulx didn’t say much to The Globe, but when asked by Sylvain Pednault of RDS to lay out his philosophy and technical approach, he was more forthcoming:

My approach is that the next shot is the important one. Whether you make a big save or let in a bad goal, it’s the next shot that counts … The technical aspect that we have worked on most is what I call “early set”; to be calm and ready before the shot and to not make a reaction before the shot release. Carey uses his speed and movement to get into position quickly, but after that he is calm and patient. He doesn’t get distracted by the players in front of him. He gets hit and pushed but now he keeps his concentration. This is the attitude I think will be important in the playoffs.

As far as his work with his budding superstar, Groulx commented:

There hasn’t been much of a change in Carey’s personality, but he has matured. The relationship between he and I is even better because we have spent more time together. We began early last summer and his preparation shows how he has grown. Obviously, when a team says to you “You are the one we want, you’re the one we have confidence in,” it is a great feeling. Carey really likes it here, he likes the situation with Alex (Auld); Alex supports him very well. Alex works very hard and wants to improve. So when Carey looks down the ice at practice and sees Alex giving 100%, he is motivated too.

When Groulx was hired, many lamented that Bob Gainey had not shelled out extra cash for goalie guru François Allaire. So far it is looking like spending more money is not the only route to success…

Emery puts Ducks back in playoffs in first start in more than a year

Ray Emery didn’t exactly get a softball for his first NHL game in more than a year. But with the chance to put Anaheim back into a playoff position for the first time since mid-February, Emery delivered 30 saves in a 2-1 win over St. Louis despite not starting an NHL game in more than a year because of a degenerative hip injury that required painful and career-threatening surgery.

Emery, who got his first taste of the NHL Sunday – his first since a game for Philadelphia on Feb. 1, 2010 – in relief of Dan Ellis, only gave up a second period goal to Blues defender Nathan Oystrick through a tough screen, and survived a late scramble (video below).

“I definitely had butterflies going and was excited to get in there,” Emery told reporters after. “I don’t control when I play, who I play against or what kind of game. When you get the opportunity, you want to make the most of it They buzzed around the net, cycled pucks, throw it and people try to whack at it. I just had to stay sharp on those little jam plays. Luckily enough, we went into the third with a chance to win. We did a good job of getting one and keeping the lead.”

Emery, who became the fifth Ducks goalie to play this season as Jonas Hiller recovers from vertigo symptoms, told the Orange County Register that things still feel a little weird because the highly invasive surgery to transplant a roughly five-inch piece of bone from his shin to his femur meant cutting through nerves and leaving a hole in the ball of his hip. But there were no holes in his game, and Emery believes he is quicker post-to-post after other lingering physical problems were taken care of during the year away.

“It was tough to get the sensation back,” Emery said, “and obviously, since they cut through a lot of muscle there, it’s hard to get the strength back. But that’s what I’ve been dealing with over the last year.”

For the Ducks and Emery it was all worth it with Wednesday’s big win.

(And don’t forget to check out the great new Ducks zombie mask that Ellis is now sporting)

Reimer’s race run? Not yet. Rookie uses criticism of Allaire to bounce back

James Reimer

James Reimer, seen her with the Marlies, had another bounce back game Wednesday just as most were starting to write him off. (InGoal Photo)

It’s hard to imagine many jobs as pressure-laden as being starting goalie in a Canadian NHL city, so perhaps it should come as no surprise the doubters came out in full force when rookie James Reimer failed to singlehandedly save Planet Maple Leaf.

After an amazing 9-4-2 start that included a 2.13 goals-against average and .934 save percentage, Reimer’s numbers sank in his past 10 outings to 3.59 goals against average, .895 save percentage and only four victories. The turning point came this week when he was pulled in the Leafs’ 6-2 loss to Tampa, giving up 5 goals on 29 shots. According to several reports, Lightning coach Guy Boucher (and goalie coach Frantz Jean, no doubt) did their homework on Reimer, targeting a low and slow glove hand as a potential weak spot.

There were even suggestions the preachings of Leafs goalie guru Francois Allaire had fallen behind a faster-paced NHL.

With Reimer looking tired before being pulled Monday night, according to head coach Ron Wilson, it was Giguere, who has long been the poster boy for Allaire as a blocking coach, most thought would start in a must-win game in Carolina Wednesday. Instead Reimer, who has made bouncing back his calling card early in his NHL career, got a surprise start and made 36 saves in a huge 3-1 win.

“To be honest, I had a little bit of extra motivation today because I had heard through the grapevine that Tampa Bay had said that something to the effect that I was just a typical Francois Allaire goalie and they knew how to beat me,” Reimer told reporters afterwards. “I’m not going to lie, that kind of rubbed me the wrong way and ticked me off.”

It was Reimer’s 13th straight start amid talk he was fatigued, though Wilson, who used the word “tired” Monday, shot that down.

“I’m sick of hearing that,” Wilson said after the game. “(Cam Ward) has played 63 games and he’s not tired, but Reimer’s supposed to be tired. If I don’t play Reimer, I’m an idiot, so let’s leave that rest. Reims isn’t tired — he’s going to have some nights where he’s not as good as he is on other nights. That’s like everyone in this League.”

Naturally Wilson then said he plans to play Giguere Thursday in Florida. As for the Allaire criticism, Giguere has heard it all before and talked about it at length with InGoal over the years, repeating those sentiments to the Toronto Star on Wednesday:

“I’ve heard that stuff before,” he said. “Francois’ goalies have a style. We are more shot blockers. We play the odds and it’s an extremely tough way to play. You really have to use your legs. But just look at Francois’ resume. He’s a future Hall of Famer. He changed the entire way the game is played for goalies — the equipment, the style, everything.”

No matter how this season ends in Toronto, Reimer deserves a lot of credit. He has started every Leafs’ game since Feb 12 and his heroics are a big part of the reason why the Leafs have a late charge for the playoffs. If their cabal of backstoppers had collectively played this well for the entire season, the magic 90-point mark needed to earn a playoff berth would largely be assured by now.

Smart money says that Reimer has a future in the big leagues. Contrary to the urban legends that have sprung up this year, he is not as much of a no-name as some might believe. In an interview with the Globe and Mail’s Jeff Blair, Leafs scout Garth Malarchuk pointed out:

He (Reimer) was graded as one of the top goalies in his age group coming out of Manitoba. What happened in junior is he was on a team [the Red Deer Rebels] that was rebuilding, and there were a lot of games where he faced a lot of shots. Some got by him and his play was inconsistent at times, but we got lucky with him because we saw his good games after Christmas…

We did a lot of work on the kid – spoke to people who coached him before junior – and that’s what stood out most to me – the trainer’s words. I mean, he pounded the table on this kid (it was Rebels long-time trainer Dave Horning who compared Reimer to former Rebel and 2006 Stanley Cup Conn Smyth winner Cam Ward)

Meanwhile, Damien Cox, a columnist at the Toronto Star, put forward an interesting argument for the Leafs holding their stake in Reimer, but giving him a fairer chance to develop by bringing in a solid, established free agent in Ilya Bryzgalov.

Many might recall that back in 2007-08, Leafs GM Brian Burke (then GM of the Anaheim Ducks) agreed to waive Bryzgalov so he could land a starter’s job in Phoenix Bryzgalov has filled that role admirably for the last three years. So the affable and outgoing “Bryz” may look favourably on moving to Toronto under Burke, just as his former Anaheim teammate Giguere waived a no-trade clause to.

As the biggest reason Phoenix is a playoff team, perhaps Bryzgalov could be the answer for long-suffering Leafs fans, just as free agent Curtis Joseph was when he parachuted into TO back in 1998 and gave a non-playoff team 4 seasons of respectability.

Just to whet your appetite, here is a short clip of Bryzgalaov stopping a breakaway and a penalty shot last month against the Columbus Blue Jackets

Proud Cuban Montoya plans to stick around

New York Islanders Goalie Al Montoya backplate

New York Islanders Goalie Al Montoya shows off his Cuban pride on the backplate of his mask, with the names of his mom and siblings and a good cigar. (InGoal photo)

Al Montoya is technically only getting a chance to play right now because the Islanders literally exhausted their list of anyone else they could put between the pipes. Shortly after Dwayne Roloson was traded to Tampa Bay, oft-injured Rick Dipietro went MIA after getting his clock cleaned by a single punch from Penguins’ goalie Brent Johnson (he returned from his facial injury and injured reserve list yesterday). Evgeni Nabokov was claimed off waivers but refused to report, rookie Kevin Poulin twisted his leg awkwardly in the warm up for a Feb. 8 game and ended up needing surgery, a week after Nathan Lawson, dispatched to the AHL Wednesday, hurt his knee.

Nevertheless, in the midst of all the turmoil, Montoya has proven to be a godsend. In exchange for nothing more than a sixth round pick to Phoenix, the Islanders have gotten some stability in the net, without doubt a big part of the reason that their record since the All Star break has been the third best in the NHL. Although he was pulled in Tuesday’s 6-3 loss to the Rangers (the team that originally chose him 6th overall in the first round of the 2004 draft before later giving up on him), the former Michigan star has been a stalwart for the roller-coaster Isles, with a steady 7-3-3 record, 2.36 goals against average and 0.920 save percentage.

Six years after getting drafted with so much hoopla, dealing with trades, injury and getting buried in the minor leagues, Montoya seems like a more mature guy who wants to make the most of his chance to swim with the big fish on Long Island. What is not so well known – Montoya is the first player of Cuban ancestry to make it to the NHL (Hasta la victoria siempre!). Check this interview from last year in Phoenix, where Montoya humbly gives credit to his mom for her sacrifices. Who knew there were hockey moms in Cuba too…

One timers from around the Goaltending World (Wide Web):

~ Oklahoma City Barons goalie Martin Gerber reportedly left the arena Wednesday on a stretcher after being knocked out of the game by a crease collision in the third period. He was helped off the ice by trainers, but according to officials with the home team left the rink on a stretcher, immediately recalling a scary end to his season in Russia last year. Gerber suffered a spinal contusion in his neck last December while playing in the KHL. Not much information was available about Wednesday’s injury, so check back for updates as everyone here at InGoal hopes for news it is nowhere near as serious as last season’s injury.

~ Detroit recalled Joey MacDonald from the AHL Wednesday because Chris Osgood felt soreness in his surgically repaired groin after Wednesday’s morning skate. MacDonald had been sent down after Osgood returned from sports hernia surgery on Monday, but was called back up quickly to back up for Wednesday’s 3-2 win over Washington. Osgood is listed as day to day.

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  1. Danny

    Congratualtions to Razor! That guy has had lots of ups and downs both on and off the ice. It sounds like he’s grown up a lot, and anybody who makes a comeback after having surgery as evasive as that deserves some credit. I’ve always been a fan of fiesty goalies. Hell Colorado could use him horribly right now, we have the worst goaltending in the league.

  2. Scott Christensen

    Good to see Montoya make it up and show some love to Ray Bishop

  3. paul szabo

    Thanks for the comments Danny and Scott. In fact there are a number of guys in goal who seem to have matured and in doing so gotten a measure of respect, and self-respect too. I would put Price in that group along with Emery and Montoya. Often I wonder how hard it must be for all the hype to not go straight to the head of an 18 or 20 year old. When I was that age I certainly wasn’t an adult…

  4. Greg Gries

    This is a great testimonial to Quebec goalie coaches.

    BUT InGoal magazine has written in the past about how European goalies have captured a larger part of the goal tending pie in the NHL. James Myrtle and others have inked similar articles.

    If that is the case why are there not more European goalie coaches in the NHL?


    • David Hutchison

      Excellent question – it probably takes a while for the NHL to recognize and catch up…I expect you’ll see more from us on this soon.

  5. geoff

    Worst title ever. If you have to give someone a nickname and then write who your talking about in parenthesis then its probably not a good way to describe them. I’m not even a religious person but i think its very ballsy to call someone Jesus, i mean come on hes just playing a game not saving all of humanity from eternal despair not to mention hes not even the best in the league. Let me guess your a habs fan and chara is a scumbag too right. Get your head on straight and have someone proof read your moronic articles before they get posted.

  6. paul szabo

    Hello Geoff;
    The comments section of Ingoal is an open forum so your comment is welcome. However, it merits the following rebuttle:

    Maybe you have heard of a literary technique called irony. If so, you might see the irony in a title where even Jesus himself has a guru. The use of parentheses is simply to point out that the subject in question is not in fact Jesus Christ but the guy they have taken to calling Jesus Price.

    If I had spent the entire article ranting about how Price was head and shoulders above everyone else and literally the second coming of the savior, then your comments might be more warranted. As it is, the article talks mostly about Price’s guru- goalie coach Pierre Groulx. So that is not exaltation of any sort, as you incongruously accuse me in your comment. I never said once he was the best in the league. The talk about the Hart trophy comes from RDS and we are just transmitting the news.

    The name Jesus Price fits into a context- that of Montreal being a city and a culture where people actually treat hockey like religion. Imagine that there is an actual university credit course here which compares the symbols and rites of the Catholic religion to hockey and the Canadiens Hockey team! I agree that the name is stretching things, but I maintain that it is a reflection of the culture. Patrick Roy was “St. Patrick”, in Quebec, the Stanley Cup is often called “La Sainte Graal”- the Holy Grail, the Habs jersey is called “La Sainte Flanelle”- the Holy Cloth, the biggest bench clearing brawl in history happened back in the 80’s between the Nordiques and Habs on what day- Good Friday of all days, etc.. Get the idea??

    The derisory and cheap accusation of me being a Habs fan and wanting to slag Chara simply belongs in left field. It has nothing to do with my article either.
    There are so many forums (just check the half boards as an example) where people can anonymously spend all their time spouting off with base language, heresay and expletives,,just to void their rheum, get their fix of self-righteous indignation, whatever. Maybe you could check one of these out.

    By the way, one of my other jobs is that of copy editor and proof reader. And my article did get the approval of Ingoal’s head editor.