“Ed Belfour was brought in and I think a lot of Ed Belfour. I don’t know him but I really have a lot of respect for his ability and his competitiveness and always liked him as a goaltender. I was leaning toward resigning with them. But I told Olie that I thought he was underachieving in terms of his potential. I had coached him in the World Cup and in the world championships. I felt he was frustrated with his own accomplishments. The organization – from what I understand – approached Billy Ranford to see if he was receptive to hiring a goalie coach, and he was. So Ron [Wilson] called me and then George and I talked again and I decided to choose this job over the Dallas position.”
And the rest, as they say, is history.
“I was pretty aggressive before Dave got here,” says Kolzig. “He’s really tried to make me play within myself and not play overly aggressive. I mean, I have the size where I can afford to stay back in my net a little further. But if I did get caught out in the crease I wasn’t quick enough to battle my way back. So I’m kind of halfway – top of the crease – where I’m out far enough that the shooter has to beat me with a pretty good shot off the crossbar or something if I’m on top of my game. And at the same time I’m within reach of battling or fighting my way back into the net if I get deked or something like that.
“I think the most important thing is that Dave keeps me emotionally balanced. I guess that’s how to put it. A lot’s been written about how I was younger in my career. I was pretty volatile and I let bad goals affect me. Dave really has made me mellow out. Even though I’m still pretty temperamental I’m not nearly as volatile. I don’t let bad plays or bad goals affect me any more but I still keep that emotional edge. Dave has really helped me balance that. He’s got a great demeanor. He doesn’t get too high when we’re winning and he doesn’t get too low when we’re losing. If we’re losing he just looks at what I could do better, we go out and work at it and that’s it. There’s more to life than goaltending and I’ve tried to take his philosophy a little bit and make myself more at peace with myself. I realize it’s only a game and it’s not the end of the world whenever I let in a goal.”
Prior videotapes goaltenders in action and breaks down their performances later on his laptop. Everywhere he goes, his camera and his laptop are in tow. After all his years in the game and on the job, even Prior confesses there are limits to what he can do to help a goaltender.
“I’d like to believe you can correct anything if you have enough time,” he says. “But very often in this position, if you are not winning someone else is getting a chance to take your job. So for me in selecting goaltenders, it’s trying to get as close to what I think will be the finished product as possible whether you are drafting or trading or signing a free agent.
“As far as habits, you can have a good goaltender from a young age, because at a young age you can employ different techniques and they work, because the shooters aren’t that good. It gets reinforced and then it becomes a habit that is pretty well ingrained in the goaltender’s repertoire of moves and reactions. As he gets to higher levels, it starts to cost him a goal maybe in juniors, every three games. Maybe if he gets to the American League it may cost him a goal every other game. In the NHL it may cost him a goal every game. As a coach, my experience is that it doesn’t seem possible to erase those habits. What we spend our time on, if there is an aspect of a goaltender’s game that isn’t desirable or that is costing us, then we have to spend a lot of time building a new habit and a better habit that will displace the old one. You think you have it licked, and the old habit creeps in under pressure sometimes, or 50 games later it shows up sometimes. The goaltender is as frustrated as anyone over it. It’s almost like a split personality; this thing comes out of nowhere and he’s like, ‘Why’d I do that?’
By way of an example, Prior can point directly to prize pupil Kolzig. The duo worked on replacing one of Kolzig’s bad habits soon after Prior started with the Capitals.
“One of the things that was certainly costing him in terms of his success as a goaltender was a desire to chase his rebounds, “ says Prior of Kolzig, “and I don’t mean to skate after them. He’d often make saves and the puck was bouncing off him in a direction away from him and he was always trying to pull it in with his stick and reach to cover it up. He often got himself in a vulnerable position and if the defensemen weren’t able to tie up the guy or if they missed their assignment, somebody was picking up the puck and depositing it in the net behind him or passing it off and bang, it was in. He was chasing his rebounds. That made a huge difference in Olie’s success on rebound situations.
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