Vanbiesbrouck enters new arena
Some goaltenders work their way up to the broadcast booth upon retirement. Others become goaltender coaches, either at the major- or minor-league level. Not many goalies become head coaches anymore, as evidenced by the fact that none of the men currently behind an NHL bench were goaltenders.
John Vanbiesbrouck is one of the few that decided to give the head-coaching route a shot.
Vanbiesbrouck is in his first year as general manager and coach of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League. He took the job after former coach Craig Hartsburg left for an assistant coaching spot with the Philadelphia Flyers.
For Vanbiesbrouck, getting hired was an easy process. He co-owns the team with a friend, purchasing a share last year while he was retired. Vanbiesbrouck skated regularly with the team until coming out of retirement for one last fling in the NHL with the New Jersey Devils.
"This was the place where I got my start,'' Vanbiesbrouck said. "I felt that this level was the right place for me. You learn a lot about yourself here, probably more than you would care to.''
He jokes with Adam Munro that he knows how to take losing, since he lost the third-most games of any goalie in NHL history -- 346. The Greyhounds have taken their share of lumps this season, entering the month of February with a record of 18-24-4-3.
Those who played with, or dealt with, Vanbiesbrouck during his playing career had a feeling that this was a path he would some day take.
"If you know John at all or have been around him for any length of time, you notice that he's a very perceptive individual,'' said Florida Panthers governor Bill Torrey. "When you take someone with his perception and intelligence, you have to assume that's a good foundation for a head coach. I have no doubt that he'll be able to get across the ideas he needs to."
"It's been all of the above [easy and hard]. It's been very hard. There is a big-time learning curve. I've had my difficulties,'' Vanbiesbrouck said. "You're preparing 20 guys instead of yourself. You go from a goalkeeper's thought pattern -- we think that we know more than anyone else -- to a player's thought pattern."
Proof that he's focused on the team as a whole: the Greyhounds have a separate goalie coach, Terry Barbeau. Still, Vanbiesbrouck can't resist the occasional "goalie talk" every once in a while.
"He knows how to talk to goalies,'' said Adam Munro, a first-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2001, whom Vanbiesbrouck obtained in a trade from Erie (coached by fellow former goalie Peter Sidorkiewicz) two months ago. "He knows what to say when you've had a bad night."
Vanbiesbrouck understands that as much as junior hockey is about teaching players how to win, player development is a high priority. Among the players he is most concerned with advancing is center Jeff Carter, rated 28th by the NHL Central Scouting Service in its ranking for the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.
"If you don't take the losses hard, then you're in the wrong business," Vanbiesbrouck said. "Do I love winning? Absolutely. But there is a perspective to all of this.''
Could Vanbiesbrouck end up coaching in the NHL someday? It's possible. For now, he kind of feels like he's starting over. He admits to being more nervous in his first game as a coach than his first one as a player.
"I have all kinds of aspirations,'' Vanbiesbrouck said. "Aspirations are one thing. Opportunities are another. I feel very confident on a daily basis that the things I'm doing are the right things. I'm a rookie here and I understand that.''