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Prior Commitment

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
Capitals goaltending coach Dave Prior is heading into his 11th season at his current position; he accepted his current post 10 years ago this summer. He has worked under three different head coaches during his tenure in Washington and has been with the Capitals longer than any other coach in the franchise’s history. Since he arrived on the scene a decade ago, Capitals goaltenders have posted three of the four lowest team goals-against averages in franchise history.

More importantly, Caps goaltender Olie Kolzig credits Prior for making him the goaltender he is today, a steady, dependable netminder on the verge of recording his 300th career win in the NHL.

Prior spends a lot of his time on the road, because his duties also include scouting goaltenders at the amateur level and mentoring Washington’s netminding prospects throughout the minor leagues. He drives to most of his North American destinations, and puts countless miles on his truck every year.

To those who don’t know him, Prior may seem like a quiet guy. And he is, to a point. But he is also one of those rare people who seems to know a little bit about everything, and who can converse intelligently on many subjects. What he really knows is goaltending, a subject to which he has devoted his entire adult life.

You won’t find a lot of “writing” in this piece, because Dave Prior (and Olie Kolzig) can talk about goaltending – and how and why Prior is where he is now better than we can – and how he has lasted so long in a job where turnover is so high.

Before he joined the Capitals in 1997-98, Prior was a goaltending coach for Dallas, Detroit, San Jose and Winnipeg. He also spent seven years scouting for the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau.

During the 1996 World Cup of Hockey tournament, Prior was mentoring goaltenders for the German National Team. That’s when he met Caps goaltender Olie Kolzig, a meeting that would lead to his next NHL job.

“He wasn’t part of the staff but I built up a relationship with him when I went and played for Germany in the World Cup and the World Championships,”remembers Kolzig. ”I sent him a tape of the four-overtime [playoff] game [against Pittsburgh from Apr. 24, 1996]. At the time I thought it was the best I had ever played but he found a lot of flaws. And now that I look back at the tape, yeah. there were a lot of flaws. Had I kept playing that way I probably wouldn’t be where I am right now.”

Prior’s own goaltending “career” was short-lived, but it’s what indirectly led him into coaching.

“I played university hockey,” he says. “I started in coaching when I was about 18 just through goaltending and hockey schools. When I was 25 – after working with a number of major junior teams and goaltenders in different places as a consultant – the NHL Central Scouting Bureau approached me and offered me a position as a scout with their group as a specialist in the goaltending field.”

That was in the early 1980s, just a few years after the Central Scouting Bureau started. Prior wasn’t looking to be a scout, but the job served as a springboard to a life in hockey.

“It wasn’t something I was looking to embark upon as a career in hockey,” says Prior. “I primarily was coaching goaltenders because I lacked coaching when I played. I realized through playing football that coaching can make a significant difference in an athlete’s performance. I got into it more just to help other goaltenders and help coaches with junior teams that approached me and it led to this scouting position. At the time I thought, ‘Well, I’ll try it and see what it’s like.’

“Initially I worked on an eight-month contract. I spent up until about the New Year just scouting different junior levels in Ontario and some of the college games that were not far off my territory and the Ontario Hockey League as well. Once you had a handle on that then we met and our scouts from Quebec and the west identified the top guys in their leagues and then I would travel then to the Western Hockey League and the Quebec League and do sort of a technical assessment of those goaltenders. We weren’t always in agreement – you never are – with the scouting staff. Everybody has their preference on the rankings. I was there to provide a little more of an opinion from a goaltender’s standpoint as well as back our list to the NHL teams in terms of why we arrived at this guy being slotted here and things like that, what we felt were his deficiencies and his strengths.”

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