After training camp, Cap Raeder sat in his new office, which would need an upgrade to reach the category of “sparsely furnished”. The walls were completely bare and most of Cap’s personal belongings were still packed away in one of two cardboard boxes stacked in the corner behind his desk. On a personal note, Raeder knew the team had obtained lodging for him at some “suite” place, but he wasn’t sure of the name or exactly where it was.
Was any of this of concern to Cap Raeder? Not in the least.
“This is great, this is fantastic,” he enthused. ‘I love it!”
This was Raeder’s second full day on the job – his new job – as assistant coach for the Tampa Bay Lightning, and he was having a blast and nothing, not even the daunting prospect of having to hunt to find his hotel that night, was going to interfere with the euphoria.
Par for the course for a man who values enthusiasm and passion, and loves to coach and manage goaltenders. He’s doing what he loves. His primary function on the coaching staff is to work with the Lightning goalies, and so far he really likes what he sees.
“We can win with these goalies,” Raeder insisted. “Absolutely.”
And when it comes to goalies and goaltending, Raeder knows from whence he speaks. In today’s NHL, no team would go forward without a goaltender coach as an integral part of the organization. Some teams even have more than one. But this wasn’t always so, and the goaltender coach is a rather recent occupational title. Before the position was created, goalies were largely left to their own means with little or no technical training and not much coaching beyond an imploring, “get out there and stop the puck”. That attitude began to alter in the early 1980s, and Cap Raeder was in the forefront of the change.
After a successful career at the University of New Hampshire, in 1973 Raeder was drafted by both Montreal in the NHL and the Hartford Whalers in the WHA, at that time the upstart league competing with the NHL for players. Raeder signed with Hartford and, after a brief stint in the minors, was called to the big team at the end of 1976 and started all the conference final games. He started the next year in the minors but returned to Hartford and ended up playing in the last 26 games that season while posting the third best goals-against average in the league.
But after two seasons during which he played some of his best hockey ever, his career started to slip.
“After that ’77 season, I never got it back again,” Raeder lamented. “I saw some pretty good goalies coming up and realized that I wasn’t going to be able to make a career of playing.”
Raeder returned to the University of New Hampshire in 1980 to finish up his degree and help coach the school hockey team. Two years later, Raeder hit on an idea that would change the concept of goaltender coaching forever.
“I decided to do a consultant thing,” Raeder explained. “I went to 15 different Division I colleges as a goaltending consultant. I’d spend a week at each school, work with the goalie, attend the meetings, review film, and even attend the games.”
Starting at the University of Maine, Raeder’s travels took him to Princeton, Yale, Harvard, Bowling Green and on and on. By the time he was through he had established the goaltender coach as an integral part of the college hockey coaching staff, and himself as expert in the field. But as he was imparting knowledge, he was also gaining insight.
“I had a chance to see how other programs are run,” Raeder recalled. “It was interesting to see the different personalities of the coaches – and how they each handled meetings and motivated their team.”
His coaching career eventually led him to Los Angeles, as assistant coach of the Kings, where he served under current Lightning coach Barry Melrose. After stints with the Boston Bruins and San Jose Sharks, Melrose contacted Raeder about joining the Lightning staff.
“I loved working for Barry Melrose,” Raeder explained. “Of all the coaches I’ve worked with I’ve enjoyed working with Melrose the most.”
Raeder reached into his desk and produced a small booklet. The title read: “Winning Does Not Lead to Passion – Passion Leads to Winning.” Melrose had given Raeder the booklet back when they both worked in LA, in 1993.
“Melrose was surprised and amused that I still had it,” Raeder laughed. “’Of course I kept it,’ I told him. ‘I listen to you.’ ”
If there is a society between these two, it is clearly one of mutual admiration.
“Cap Raeder is a guy I can depend on a lot for goaltenders,” Melrose told the St. Pete Times. “I know what he can do. That’s the guy I know and trust as far as goaltenders are concerned.”
Raeder’s strength, in addition to technical expertise, is the sense of understanding what it takes to play the position that he brings.
“There’s a huge mental part,” Raeder explained. “Knowing someone is in your corner, knowing you can sit down and talk with someone about the position means a lot to a player. I know how the goalie feels, and that’s the nice thing, too. I’ve been where these guys are now.”
After a tumultuous past broken only by the acquisition of Nikolai Khabibulin and then reaccelerated by his departure, it appears that the instability in net that the Lightning have suffered with for years may be a thing of the past.
“I’m very glad to be here,” Raeder concluded. “Just win, baby, win! Let’s win and have fun!”