The minor league players for the Carolina Hurricanes spent last season under the watchful eye of soon-to-be Hall of Famer Ron Francis, who returned to the organization to judge its young talent.
It doesn’t get much better than that.
| || David Droschak |
But Jim Rutherford didn’t stop there. Today, the Carolina GM announced that Tom Barrasso
, one of the best at this position in NHL history, was hired to tutor the team’s young minor league goalies, guys like recent draft picks Justin Peters
and Daniel Manzato.
Barrasso insisted his job will be to teach and instruct, not change each goalie’s style to fit the way he played. The 6-foot-3 Barrasso was a stand-up goalie for most of his career, using the butterfly technique to perfection. He was also a tremendous handler of the puck. His 48 career points -- the most by a goaltender in NHL history – are a testament to that. But the style of goaltending has changed drastically since Barrasso first broke into the league.
“There are two main components of playing goal,” he said. “Style is pretty much an individual preference, but there are certain technical fundamentals that are universal – your footwork, your foot position, angles. Always falling back on those things makes you a great player. Your style doesn’t make you a great player.
“My job is not to try to convert anybody. My job is to make them as technically sound as they can be, make them as mentally comfortable in goal as they can be so they can perform at a high level.”
Barrasso purposely avoided watching any tape or researching anything about the club’s minor league goalie prospects.
“My thought from the beginning is that there is a clean slate for everybody,” said Barrasso, who will be with the 'Canes when the club opens training camp next week in Raleigh, maybe even giving starter Cam Ward a tip or two. “I want them to rise and fall on their own merits.”
Barrasso played just 34 games for the 'Canes in the 2001-02 season and missed out on the Cup run after being traded to Toronto. Still, the winningest U.S. goalie was impressed enough by the Triangle area to return this summer from four years on Cape Cod.
|Barrasso won a Vezina Trophy and two Stanley Cups during his 19-year NHL career |
Rutherford and Barrasso had been in contact for more than a year as he searched for ways to get back into the game. That opportunity appeared to be with USA Hockey in Michigan. That was until a part-time coaching position suddenly became full-time. Barrasso wasn’t interested before informing Rutherford he had returned to Raleigh.
The two had several meetings and struck an agreement that gives Carolina something no other NHL club has – a full-time goaltending coach in Greg Stefan and a roving minor league teacher in Barrasso, who won 353 games in his illustrious career.
Francis and Barrasso are good friends from their playing days with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Francis gave Barrasso the push he needed to return to the Canes.
“We enjoyed our stay here and we still have friends in the area that we kept in contact with,” Barrasso said of his return to Raleigh. “Cape Cod is an amazing place, but in the winter time it’s a little slow. This is more of a normal type of lifestyle, getting back in a more urban environment.”
Rutherford was convinced Barrasso was the right man for the job when the former star goalie said the potential second career move scared him a little.
“You don’t really know until they get into it a year or two, but the one thing I liked in the last meeting was he said, ‘I’m really nervous,’ so you know his heart is in the right place, he’s not just doing this for fun.
“I am very, very happy about this,” added Rutherford. “To me, this is a very good move for us.”
Barrasso was a great player as a teen-ager and won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goalie in 1983-84. But coaching is nothing like playing, and sometimes the best players don’t necessarily make the best coaches.
Barrasso and Francis have talked about that very subject.
“If you ask Ron I think the first thing that comes out of his mouth is that it’s a great challenge in an area that you are not known for. The whole idea is you have to prove yourself again, that you’re capable at this level,” Barrasso said.
“My success developing goaltenders in this organization has no bearing on what I did as a player. My success will solely be determined on how they develop and nothing to do with my own physical ability. That’s the greatest challenge.”
David Droschak is the former sports editor for the North Carolina bureaus of the Associated Press, the largest news-gathering organization in the world. In 2003, Droschak was named the North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year. The only writer in the Triangle to have covered the Carolina Hurricanes every season since the organization moved to North Carolina, he currently is a principal in the Raleigh-based public relations firm Hughes-Droschak Communications.