"I'm the luckiest goalie of the League. He has helped me a great deal. The first thing is preparation. Tom breaks down games and periods and he'll provide a plan to be that elite goalie on a nightly basis. He was known to have that puck-handling skill and was one of the best at doing it." — Cam Ward, on Hurricanes' goalie coach Tom Barrasso
learned a long time ago that coaches can ill-afford to wait around for their goalies to feel cozy and confident about their game. By that time, it's too late.
"You can't be a starter in the NHL if you need to feel good in order to be successful," Barrasso told NHL.com. "How are you then going to play the fourth game in six nights when you're tired and maybe even under the weather?"
Its just one aspect of goaltending that Barrasso tends to remind his young students nowadays as an assistant coach for the Carolina Hurricanes
. One such pupil is 2006 Conn Smythe Trophy-winner Cam Ward
Not surprisingly, Ward's goals-against average has dropped (2.75 GAA to 2.44 GAA) and save percentage risen (.904 to .916) in two previous seasons under Barrasso. This year's nightmarish start is an entirely different story altogether, but one would assume Ward will pick up the pieces and finish the season strong when he returns to the lineup from injury in about a month.
Barrasso is confident his protégé will.
"He's got great instincts for the game of hockey on top of great physical skills and that's the kind of combination not a lot of people have," Barrasso said. "I think there are lots of gifted athletes, but they don't see the game, read the play as well or react to the puck as they should. When I look at Cam off the ice, you wouldn't think to yourself, 'There's one of the top goaltenders in the NHL.' But, in fact, and I'm sure a lot of it is a God-given gift, he is. He works very hard at what he does and my job is to help find out who he is as a goalie and work on the things that have brought him to this level."
Listening to Barrasso talk shop is enlightening. You can sense the dedication to his work and the belief he has in his ability to get his message across loud and clear.
"The coaching environment was very different 25 years ago -- the players weren't making a whole lot of money and the coaches were a lot harder on players than they can be now just based on the dollars and sense of things," Barrasso said. "Scotty Bowman was my first coach (in Buffalo) and was the GM at the time, so he drafted me and was very demanding of me in practice. I think it's a different relationship than you see nowadays between player and coach."
As far as Ward's concerned, the relationship with Barrasso has been a match made in heaven.
"I'm the luckiest goalie of the League," Ward said. "He has helped me a great deal. The first thing is preparation. Tom breaks down games and periods and he'll provide a plan to be that elite goalie on a nightly basis. He was known to have that puck-handling skill and was one of the best at doing it."
Barrasso concluded his career with 48 assists -- the most by any goalie in NHL history.
"I think (Cam's) puck-handling has come a long way," Barrasso said. "The most important aspect in being a good goalie is being able to help your defensemen so being a good puck-handler is very important. I don't mean making breakaway passes either; it's helping your team execute a breakout from your zone so you spend less time there while giving up fewer scoring chances."
Like it or not, repetition and predictability, says Barrasso, is what makes the good goaltender a great goaltender.
"You've got to be able to come out and put together an effort to give your team a chance to win and we do that with technique and sound principles that we've worked on over the years," Barrasso said. "We're going to be in the same place at the same time and make the same moves all the time -- that predictability is what allows us to be successful over time."
It's a concept Ward has certainly taken to heart and, obviously, has tried to perfect.
"The first thing was to show him who he was as a goaltender -- what made him good," said Barrasso. "Everybody has certain things they're strong at but the trick is recognizing, at the height of your success, why you were successful. I think a lot of times we take for granted and say, 'Well, I just played well.' But, for me, the more important question is, 'Why did we play well?' "
Only then can a player begin to break down the finer details to reveal the building blocks necessary to consistently succeed.
"We can build our foundation from that so that when we're not feeling well or not as confident, we can always rely on those same positions and movements all the time," Barrasso said. "This way, you take that unknown variable out of play. That's my philosophy of goaltending."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com