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A Welcome Bill

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings

A goalie coach? In the 1960s and 70s, the idea seemed as foreign as wireless Internet. Or the Internet.

If a goalie ran into a bad stretch of games, the head coach would essentially tell him to sit in a corner and figure it out himself. The starter commiserated with the backup, and vice versa. Sometimes, goalies from opposing teams would meet for dinner and compare notes, in hopes of a fraternal boost.

Coaching? Most of the time, it consisted of a pat on the rear and encouragement to ``stop the next one.’’

Welcome to 2011. Not only do the Kings, and every other NHL team, have a designated goalie coach, but instruction has advanced remarkably in 20 years. Now, Bill Ranford not only works with the Kings’ goalies on the ice but can be half a continent away and still impart knowledge and instruction and give a pep talk.

Ranford became the Kings’ goalie coach in 2006, and his tutelage is credited as a major reason for the success of Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier, one of the top young goalie tandems in the league.

Quick enters Thursday’s home game against Edmonton ranked second in the NHL in goals-against average (1.52) and tied for second in save percentage (.947), while Bernier enjoyed great success in the second half of last season to help the Kings to the playoffs, and is widely viewed as a future NHL No. 1 goalie.

``When I came here, to this organization, five years ago, I had a lot of things in my game that needed to be corrected,’’ Quick said.
``(Ranford) has helped tremendously as far as that goes, he and (goalie assistant) Kim Dillabaugh. It’s just calming my game down, to be more efficient, saving energy. Before, I used to waste energy. So on the ice, I think that’s the biggest thing he’s done for me.

``Then, off the ice, when you go through an NHL season, a full season, there are so many ups and downs and it’s great to have a guy like that, who has been through it many times before, and he can talk you through it and give you advice here and there. It makes it a lot easier.’’

Ranford, and goalies of his generation, rarely had such a luxury. Well into the 1970s, most NHL teams didn’t employ assistant coaches, and rarely did the head coach have a goaltending background.

Even when teams started to bring on full-time assistant coaches, they focused on the skaters. Perhaps that’s how goalies first developed the stereotype of being quirky outsiders. Nobody talked to them. Kings coach Terry Murray, an NHL defenseman from 1973-82, saw that firsthand.

``It was one of those positions where it was, `OK, just leave him by himself, he will figure it out,’’’ Murray said. ``I go back to my early days, when I was an assistant coach in Washington (in the mid-80s), and it was more about just spending time talking to them, rather than getting into more of the detailed stuff. You didn’t know a lot about it and you didn’t want to mess with it.

``You hear stories, in my early years, of goalies like
(Philadelphia’s) Bernie Parent. He would try to meet the opposing goalie, maybe have dinner with him, and they would just talk if they were having some issues, maybe help each other a bit. `Watch what I’m doing,’ or maybe tell him something after a game. That’s the way it worked years ago, and now we have those coaches to cover our bases.’’

The first noted ``goalie coach,’’ Warren Strelow worked with the ``Miracle On Ice’’ 1980 U.S. Olympic team and joined the Washington Capitals’ staff a couple years later when Murray was an assistant coach.

Goalies such as Ranford, though, thrived without much direct help.
Ranford broke into the NHL in 1986 but didn’t have a regular team-employed goalie coach until a decade into his 13-year career.
Ranford won a Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1990 without a goalie coach.

``Everybody talks about (goalie) being the most important position, but I think people just looked at the numbers aspect of it,’’ Ranford said of the lack of coaching. ``There were only two (goalies) and 21 others. I think, for that reason, it sometimes gets forgotten. They focus on warming up the goalies, and then after that they’re the last thing that’s on the coaches’ minds. I think you’re seeing a real change in that now.’’

The Kings’ first official goalie coach was Don Edwards, brought on by head coach Larry Robinson when he was hired in 1995. Later, goalie coach Andy Nowicki served under head coach Andy Murray.

In between, Ranford started his coaching journey. A resident of British Columbia, Ranford started doing some part-time coaching for the Coquitlam Express, a junior team in which he holds part ownership.
Ranford didn’t seriously think about coaching as a career, though, until he took on the duties full-time, first for the Seattle Thunderbirds and then for the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League.

Dean Lombardi, hired as the Kings’ general manger in 2006, hired Ranford as the Kings’ goalie ooach under Marc Crawford, and retained him two years later when Terry Murray replaced Crawford.

Ranford and his family live in British Columbia, so he has a bit of triangular life. Typically, Ranford spends one week in Los Angeles and the next at home, reviewing video and keeping tabs on the minor-league and prospect goalies. Every six weeks or so, he will fly East to watch the Manchester Monarchs.

``If I think there needs to be a phone call made, I will,’’ Ranford said. ``The biggest thing, when I got hired by Dean and Ron (Hextall), was that the goalie has to learn how to grow by himself too. I don’t want to be a crutch. I want them to have to battle through some things themselves, because that’s what makes them better and stronger goalies. But my phone is on 24-7.

After Bernier’s last game, we talked because he wanted some feedback, because he hasn’t played a lot. So we talked about it the next day, and kind of went through some clips.’’

Ranford’s goal, whether through on- or off-ice instruction, is to keep his goalies as even-keel as possible.

``Even when he’s not here, if I have a couple tough games or something, he will give me a call and he will let me know,’’ Quick said. ``Sometimes, in your head you think you’re playing terrible, because you lose a few games and you give up a few goals here and there. He always is pretty aware to give me a call if I need one, just to let me know that I’m not playing as poorly as I think I am.

``Then it goes the other way, too. I’ll have a couple games where I won’t let in many goals, and we’ll win, and he will give me a call -- or, if he’s in town, he will show me -- and say, `You weren’t doing this properly,’ or, `You got away with one there.’ So he’s good about doing it on both ends, and making sure that I’m not getting too high or too low and just staying even-keel throughout the season.’’

In Quick and Bernier, Ranford has two high-profile students with different makeups.

Quick is a fiery competitor who regularly heaps more criticism on himself than others do. Bernier is quieter and has spoken openly about some of his past confidence and attitude issues. Ranford said he will sometimes take his goalies’ personalities into account when giving instruction.

``I try to stay as consistent as possible, but I may be able to be harder on one guy, at certain times, than the other,’’ Ranford said.
``If one guy is not playing as much, I’m going to push him more. If you look at a scenario like last year, there was a time when Quickie went on a little bit of a slump. Terry gave me three or four maintenance days with him, and that’s when you really push him. As far as Bernier goes, I’ve got to push him on those other days. Not too hard. You walk that fine line, but I have to push him hard to make sure that he’s ready when it’s time for him to go in.’’

That’s why Ranford can sometimes be seen on the ice before practice -- and often long after -- working out one or both of the goalies. That’s a big change from his early playing days, and those when Murray patrolled the blue line on defense while his goalies were left to their own devices.

``I think the game has evolved,’’ Murray said. ``Now we’re seeing power-play coaches on some teams. You’ve got video coaches whose sole job is just to pre-scout and do presentations to the team. You’ve got shooting instructors now. You’ve got skating instructors now. You’ve got goalie coaches. It’s following more of the mentality of other sports. It’s a business where we’re bringing players in and we want to accelerate their development as quickly as possible. It’s just the way the game has evolved.’’

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