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Reese Guiding Emery, Boucher

by Bill Fleischman / Philadelphia Flyers
New goaltenders, new coach.

That’s the clean slate the Flyers are riding into the new season. In are Ray Emery, Brian Boucher and Jeff Reese ( bio). Gone are Marty Biron (to the Islanders), Antero Niittymaki (Tampa Bay) and Reggie Lemelin.

The arrival of Emery and the return of Boucher have been well chronicled. Reese, not so much.

Reese spent the previous eight seasons as the goaltending coach in Tampa. He was there when the Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004 with Nikolai Khabibulin in the nets.

Reese’s NHL goaltending stops were with Toronto, Calgary, Hartford  and New Jersey. Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren was Hartford’s GM-coach when Reese was with the Whalers.

Little known fact, outside the Reese family: Jeff holds the NHL record for assists in a game by a goaltender. He had three in Calgary’s 13-1 rout of San Jose on Feb. 10, 1993. Craig Berube, a Flyers assistant coach, was a Calgary teammate of Reese’s in that game.

So, if Emery and Boucher need some tips with their offensive skills, Reese is the man. However, Reese’s main mission is to help Emery and Boucher stop shots.
Jeff Reese spent parts of 11 seasons in the NHL. (Getty Images)

Reese, 43, stresses that he was not hired to change the styles of Emery and Boucher. And he’s not here to preach to them.

“My job is to be there if they need someone to talk to, to prepare them the best I can to succeed,” Reese said. “I’m pretty easy to get along with. Little pointers here, little pointers there. You never stop learning in this game, including myself.

While Emery is still willing to learn, he says he prefers a goaltending coach who knows when to offer advice and when to back off.

“Each guy has his own style,” Emery said. “If I make a mistake I (usually) know what I did. But if (Reese) sees a reoccurring thing he will point it out. He’s a student of the game.”

Boucher likes the fact that Reese was an NHL goaltender. “He can relate to you (because) he’s been through these experiences,” Boucher said. “A guy who hasn’t played at this level might have no clue. It’s quite different at this level than it is at junior or anything else.”

While Reese had not met either current Flyers goaltender until prior to training camp, he was familiar with both.

“We played Ray a few years ago in the playoffs when I was with Tampa,” Reese said. “He’s matured. Positionally, he’s much stronger. He’s more patient: he lets the game come to him. He’s an independent guy who’s mentally strong.

“He had a successful year in Russia last year, but Russia isn’t here. I think this is a perfect city for him, for his personality and the way he plays.

“I watched `Bouch’ early on, then I watched him fight through adversity, being sent down and then fighting his way back. That’s impressive to me.

“We have two veteran guys that understand the game. They understand positioning. I’m a big believer in positioning. It’s the younger guys that need to be molded.”

Reese also will work with the Flyers minor league goalies. He is planning a trip to Glens Falls, New York., where he’ll check in with Phantoms goalies Johan Backlund and Nic Riopel, the Flyers fifth-round selection choice in the latest NHL Entry Draft.

“[Backlund] is an older guy (28), but he’s never been over here,” Reese said. “Over there (Europe) you have to be more patient because they’ll pass it around. Sometimes you have a tendency to stay back. Over here, guys will shoot from everywhere and everything happens quicker. He’s going through the adjustment.”

One of Reese’s duties is preparing videos of all NHL goalies. Flyers coach John Stevens said some Flyers watch the tapes and some don’t.

“The game happens so quick, some guys just want to shoot the puck,” Stevens said. “Sometimes, as a shooter, if you’re thinking too much maybe you see an opportunity, you try to remember what this goalie does instead of just reacting to the game.”

Prior to Reese joining the Flyers he and Stevens didn’t know each other. They played against each other back in junior hockey. Stevens said Reese has immediately fit in with the Flyers staff.

“He’ll get (the goalies) extra work if they need it,” Stevens said. “If he sees something they need to do better (he’ll tell them) or he’ll just reinforce the good things they are doing.”

During Reese’s career among he had two Hockey Hall of Famers as goaltender coaches: Johnny Bower, in Toronto, and Glenn Hall, in Calgary. “They weren’t on the ice with you, but they were great to talk to,” Reese said. “The position really has evolved. It’s like a pitching coach in baseball. With two veteran guys, it’s nice for them to able to talk to somebody who’s gone through some of this stuff. When I played, you had to figure a lot of stuff out on your own. My job, especially with the young guys, is to try to get them there a little quicker.”

Talented goaltenders will get there if they possess mental toughness. There are countless goalies who had the physical ability to play in the NHL, but they lacked the mental fortitude and daily commitment to succeed.

“When I first started (coaching),” Reese said, “I thought if a kid wasn’t mentally tough, I thought I could help change that. That’s something that’s very difficult to change. You can help a little, but you either have that or you don’t.”

Mental toughness and devotion to the game help explain the longevity of players who continue in the NHL into their late 30s and early 40s. See Mark Reechi, 41, and Teemu Selanne, 39. as two examples. In Tampa, Reese was associated with one of those type players, Dave Andreychuk.

“If you look at all the great athletes, they love to compete and love to play,” Reese said. “Dave loved everything about it: that’s why he played so long. He loved to practice, he loved to be with the guys.”

Working with the Flyers goaltenders brings Reese to his favorite team when he was growing up. Bernie Parent, another Hall of Famer, was the goaltender that Reese “idolized. He was so fluid and graceful,” Reese said.

Reese has only met Parent once. Steve Coates, a Flyers TV analyst, set up the meeting. “I had my picture taken with (Parent),” Reese recalled. “Then he came up to the (press) box and we chatted. It was a big thrill for me.”

When I mentioned that I co-authored, with the late Sonny Schwartz, Parent’s autobiography “Bernie, Bernie”, Reese smiled and said, “I read the book.”

Made my day.

Please note that the views expressed in this column are not necessarily the views expressed by the Philadelphia Flyers Hockey Club.

Bill Fleischman is a veteran Philadelphia Daily News sportswriter. He was the Flyers' beat reporter for the Daily News in the 1970s, and continued to cover games in later years. A former president of the Professional Hockey Writers and the Philadelphia Sports Writers Associations, Fleischman is co-author of "Bernie, Bernie," the autobiography of Bernie Parent. Fleischman also is co-author of "The Unauthorized NASCAR Fan Guide." Since 1981, he has been an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware journalism program.
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