"When I first started, I was young and the other goalies were more like my buddies so I would talk to them more as a friend. As the years went on, I learned the skills of what it was to coach and of teaching from observing. I've learned how to develop young players and there's a lot of psychology in this. I spend a lot of time just talking about some of the pressures and how to come out of a funk and all that stuff. Not just the technical aspects."
>>Reggie Lemelin, former NHL goalie and longtime Flyers goalie coach
It's an odd thing, this goalie coach business. The advent of impenetrable pads means you no longer have to be absolutely batshit crazy to be an NHL goalie -- but make no mistake, hockey goaltenders are still an odd breed.
But my interest has always been piqued by these former NHL goalies who jump right into coaching their former peers. Lemelin's experience raises that question:
Are they really qualified to coach today's young hot shots just by the nature of their playing career? Do they really "know what it's like" when the position has evolved since their prime (indeed, that evolution may have even sped their retirement)? Or does their strength lie in the day-to-day psychology -- in talking another crazy goalie down from the ledge of bad habits and low confidence that can creep into this high-pressure position?
When Garth Snow -- who himself got a nepotist-esque promotion from goalie to GM -- named his buddy Mike Dunham as Islanders goaltending coach, some fan eyebrows were raised for precisely these reasons.
Which is why it seems the Islanders are in good hands by having both Dunham -- who experienced the whole spectrum of NHL goalie fortunes as a player -- and "Sudsie" Maharaj, a Trinidad native who played at an elite level in Sweden but has long been focused on teaching young goalies the technical and mental aspects of the game. Much to Joey MacDonald's benefit, that. Add to that former Nordiques 'keeper Scott Gordon as head coach, Snow in the GM box, and Rick DiPietro in the 15-year franchise player role, and the Islanders are a veritable cult of (crazy?) goalies.
It's a fun topic, and every nutty goalie you know probably has an opinion. For more on Lemelin and others, check out the nhl.com story on goalie coaches. If you're a goalie -- or even if you just razz the one on your rec team -- I'd love to hear your thoughts. (Heh, even if it's just crazy-goalie talk.)