RALEIGH, N.C. – Carolina Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters tried to think back to the last time that he roofed a backhander over a goalie like the one he put past goaltender Cam Ward during practice at PNC Arena on Saturday.
“A long time,” he said with a chuckle and smile.
“No, I was just makin’ sure Wardo would bear down and concentrate – he was excellent in his rebound control there. Everything was underneath the goal line; everything’s in the mesh and on the glass. That’s dialed in.”
“I think work ethic – that comes from within,” Peters said of Ward.
“I don’t think there’s any question about his work ethic. The only thing Wardo, to me, when I did my research on him, the only time he’s hit speed bumps in his career is through injury. He’s healthy, he’s mentally in a good spot and you’ve seen him play. I’ve only seen him be good.”
Aside from the head coach waxing poetic about Ward, the team’s goaltending tandem that also includes Russian netminder Anton Khudobin, has put in extra work during training camp and the preseason in working with new goaltending coach David Marcoux.
Marcoux spent six years as the goaltending coach for the Calgary Flames between 2003 and 2009, and during that period helped then-Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff become a Vezina Trophy and Williams Jennings Trophy winner, as well as a Hart Trophy finalist in 2005-06.
In addition to Kiprusoff, Marcoux’s time with the Flames included experience working with Ward, as the Hurricanes and Flames shared the American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate Lowell Lock Monsters during the 2004-05 National Hockey League (NHL) work stoppage.
Thus, coming into the organization with some familiarity with Ward and reestablishing that relationship as well as creating a new relationship with Khudobin, Marcoux’s focus early on has been communication and developing trust with them.
“With both guys, that’s the key – the relationship between the goalie coach and the goalies in the organization – you gotta’ build trust,” Marcoux said.
“In the first few weeks, you’ve got to be a very good listener, and you have to be a very good observer and take a lot of notes. I’m the type of goalie coach that is not there to change or transform goalies – it’s not my way or the highway – I’m not like that.”
Marcoux doesn’t envision his role as that of a magician to fix things, but rather to help the two experienced netminders build the confidence they need to play with in order to help Carolina win games.
“Those guys have some experience, and they’ve been doing things a certain way for a long time,” Marcoux continued.
“The biggest thing with goalie coaching is you’re not reinventing the wheel.”
The entire preseason has involved the process of communicating with each keeper and getting both familiar with his expectations.
“That’s why it’s so important to get off to a head start and an early start,” he said.
“When the pressure of winning at all costs is not at an all-time high, we’re in a learning process. We are developing and that’s what preseason is all about. (It’s also time) for me to establish what I’m all about too. I demand certain things – I have negotiable elements in what I do and I have other elements that this is non-negotiable.”
According to Marcoux, warm-up work before taking shots and specific goalie skating drills are non-negotiable.
“That’s just being a pro.”
“Understanding the importance, that as you get older you need to warm up the body and you’re building good habits. Your first three minutes on the ice is an actual warmup and it’s not getting pucks at your head right off the bat. If you go out early, you activate and prepare the mind and body to face pucks.”
“I think he’s really great for myself,” Ward said following a 5-1 preseason win over Buffalo.
“Personally, he’s a great guy, great human being. I think he’s got great learning lessons that he can incorporate on the ice. We’ve been goin’ out at practices early and tryin’ to sharpen everything up.”
Using the same language and terms to understand and meet expectations, and utilizing feedback tools like video footage to engage in conversation that leads to determining meaningful outcomes are other aspects that Marcoux has implemented while working with Ward and Khudobin.
“The trust and building the relationship right now, and getting to know the guys is key,” Marcoux explained.
“In the sports world, they don’t care how much you know until you show how much you care. It’s all about chemistry and synergy. We’re just on the same page in terms of the terminology. If I talk about a post-lean, they need to understand what a post-lean is. So, not to create that confusion, the terminology is huge. (Using video footage) that’s a perfect opportunity to keep building the relationship.”
Thus, as Ward and Khudobin have stepped onto the ice every day to put in their pre-practice work and to get into the right mindset to stop pucks effectively and consistently during camp, Marcoux has been thinking about how to continue to develop chemistry between the netminders, as well as with their teammates.
“As a goalie coach, I’m suggesting certain things,” Marcoux said.
“Ultimately, it’s not you or I that has to deal with the pressure of the moment of making that save. That goalie, for that game, for that night, he can’t be thinking out there. He has to be reacting. So right now, there is a little bit of thinking going on, and adjusting and getting those feelings down. That’s why preseason is so important for goalies to build chemistry amongst the players (too).”
Marcoux understands that with Ward and Khudobin, each presents a different style of stopping pucks.
“In terms of the way they play, they do have differences.”
“We don’t have oversize goalies. We have athletic goalies. When you look around the league, you have these six-foot-seven-inch goalies that might be able to play a bit of a deeper game, but I like the athleticism that we have. I like the ability of our goalies to go out and play the puck too – be the third defenseman out there.”
How far out Ward will have to play to cut down angles will be different than what Khudobin has to do to make the same save.
However, the main key is that each develops the same level of confidence to do so.
“They are all different, but it’s interesting to see their openness,” Marcoux pointed out.
“For the guys who know what they are and how they feel in certain angles and certain positions, that’s priceless. They’re experienced enough – and I am asking them to debate that if they really believe in something, then ‘this is what you are in this specific situation, then go for it’. For every movement, or every type of save, there is a consequence and you just need to be aware of what if? You focus on this – what if? How do you get there? What’s next? The NHL game is quick – passing plays, speed game, everything around the net – and you just have to be able to focus on the plan A, but what’s plan B and how do you get there?”
Marcoux was up to the challenge in becoming part of the Hurricanes coaching staff, having the opportunity to work with two NHL-experienced goalies, and to help the team try to make the playoffs for the first time in five seasons.
“I knew there was an opportunity here,” Marcoux said.
He and Peters knew each other amongst common coaching contacts, but had never worked together.
However, they connected on the same level the more that they communicated with one another.
“The discussions that we had many, many times on the phone, we were just bouncing ideas and my philosophy and his philosophy; I think he saw it being a good fit.”
Having coached alongside Darryl Sutter, Jim Playfair, and Mike Keenan, Marcoux was attracted to the similar passion for the game that Peters was known to work with.
“You just look at the intensity that those guys would bring and what Bill brings. Bill brings that – a level of enthusiasm and a level of communication. His communication skills are tremendous and that filters through the room, and filters with the coaching staff. Everyone knows where they stand with Bill.”
Thus, being on the same page with the head coach has been critical for Marcoux to pass the message down to each goalie he works within the organization, including the team’s prospects.
“He’s an excellent coach,” Peters said.
“He’s got lots of energy. He’s a big piece of our organization because he’s gonna’ work with Charlotte too. He’s huge. With our young guys and three, four years out, he’s gonna’ be workin’ with Ned and all those types of guys, so he’s valuable piece. We need goaltending to win in this league and we all know that.”
With that said, Ward and Khudobin head up the Hurricanes’ third team as led by coach Marcoux, and they will need to put in many extra hours of work to eventually develop the winning mindset and confidence that no one will get a puck past them, in a game or practice, unless they’ve done everything they could to stop it.
Of course, even putting in the effort to stop it, one can’t always deny an exceptional shot.
Kind of like Peters’ backhander was on Ward.