Wade Flaherty is the goaltending coach for the Winnipeg Jets. He has played 120 games in the National Hockey League and 283 games in the American Hockey League, including 117 games with the Manitoba Moose. He is all too familiar with the ups and downs of being a professional goaltender.
When Flaherty first came to the Jets organization, he had to form a relationship with Chris Mason and Ondrej Pavelec. Luckily, he was already familiar with Mason, as they played one year together with the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL during the 2002-03 season.
“You have to get them to trust you in a sense of your beliefs in goaltending,” said Flaherty. “Every guy has a different approach and my approach is to have a lot of discussions on things and to try to find the answers together.
“I believe at this level you can never tell a goaltender how to play. They’ve already gotten this far in their career, so obviously, they’re doing something right.”
Not all goaltenders are lucky enough to have goaltending coaches in their early years. Both Mason and Pavelec were self-taught until they were assigned a goalie in junior. Each young goalie learns and develops at a different pace and forms a style that makes them unique.
“Some things don’t work for every goalie,” said Flaherty. “So as a coach, you can’t just sell one thing and that’s it, you have to be flexible because goalies all play with their different styles.”
“I remember growing up and people would just tell you to get your angles and stop the puck,” stated Mason. “You had to make the rest up on your own. Now you break down video, do technical work every day and you just have way more one-on-one specialized training.
“It’s tough to change someone’s style, but you can definitely work on technique. Wade has really helped me individually to work on specific elements of my play. We’ve really worked hard since before training camp and he’s helped me a great deal.”
For Pavelec, Flaherty helps him with smaller elements of his game, the little things that he can’t see that he’s doing. He is always looking to tweak his game and learn new tricks.
“There is always room to improve your style and get better every day on the ice,” said Pavelec. “It’s about the little details that make the game, those details can make a huge difference.
“Having a goalie coach helps me a lot because sometimes you can’t see the mistakes. Wade can tell me right away during practice what I’m doing wrong and I can fix it right away. Sometimes its just about giving you the confidence and telling you what you’re doing right.”
Flaherty recognizes the direct positive result of being self-taught and picking up more than one style at an early age.
“It’s not a bad thing to be self-taught, the more knowledge they can get from different people and put it all together to find what works for them, is what you try to do. For Pavs, who is self-taught, he must have spent a fair amount of time watching TV, because he’s done quite well with it.”
On a day-to-day basis, Flaherty spends many hours with each goaltender individually, working on a variety of specifics, reviewing video and general preparation for the upcoming game. Each goalie has a different routine, especially on a game day.
“We go over video of every game and every touch that I have,” explained Mason. “Weather I’m playing the puck or letting in a goal, we go over what I could have done differently. One of Wade’s strengths is making up drills on the spot using game situations to use the next day in practice.”
“A lot of it is getting to know them at the beginning of the year and seeing what they like to do and what they don’t like to do,” said Flaherty. “Pav’s game day routine is different than Mason’s game day routine. We look at both the good things and the things that need help from previous games and come up with solutions.”
There are always highs and lows in the game of hockey. Every team will battle through slumps and streaks but playing in goal can be a lonely and emotional roller coaster.
“Sometimes you feel you want to talk about it if you had a bad game, and sometimes you don’t. It’s nice to have somebody who understands and who has gone through it.” Pavelec commented.
“He’s really comforting and a really good support system,” said Mason. “He knows what it feels like to have a tough game or let in a bad goal. He’s been really good at knowing how we’re feeling and managing the next day or so.
“Wade has a really good pulse on what it’s like to be a goalie, because he is one. He’s really done a great job with us.”
Flaherty commented that although cliché, the key is to keep an even keel each and every day as the season moves along.
“What you try to do is stay level, never get too high, and never get too low,” he said. “It’s the truth with goaltending because you can have success in four, five or ten games, but it’s all going to come crashing down at some point. It’s important not to spend too much time on the bad games and to try to keep that good feeling so when things don’t go well for you, you can crumple it up, throw it away and start a new day.”
Pav and I are really close and it makes it a lot easier when you know you're supporting each other... We both feel that if something happens on the ice, we can talk about it, on and off the ice as well. - Chris Mason
Both goalies also must act as a support system for each other, especially when things aren’t going as smoothly as they like.
“Pav and I are really close and it makes it a lot easier when you know you’re supporting each other,” said Mason. “I know when I’m playing, he’s my biggest supporter and he knows when he’s playing, that I’m his biggest supporter. We both feel that if something happens on the ice, we can talk about it, on and off the ice as well.”
The goaltender coach position has advanced so much over the last ten years and will continue to evolve as more teams are putting the goalie under the microscope.
“It has evolved tremendously,” said Flaherty. “It has always been an important position but there is so much more focus put on the position now because your goaltending can be a game changer in today’s game.”