VANCOUVER -- Steve Briere knew when he was named the Toronto Maple Leafs new goaltending coach Monday that a lot of people would wonder who he was, and why incoming coach Mike Babcock thought he was ready to make the jump from tier-2 junior to the NHL.
The answers can't be found by looking up Briere's career and noting where or how well he played during eight professional seasons as a goalie. Nor can it be found by scanning the teams Briere has worked for since trading his goalie pads for a coach's whistle.
To better gauge Briere's work the past eight years, you need to scan his rosters in the NCAA, United States Hockey League and North American Hockey League and a list of pupils that includes new Edmonton Oilers No. 1 Cam Talbot and NHL prospects like Zane MacIntyre (Boston Bruins), Rasmus Tirronen (Carolina Hurricanes) and Matej Tomek (Philadelphia Flyers).
Goalie coach Mitch Korn helped mentor new Leafs goalie coach Steve Briere. (Photo: Washington Capitals)
But to fully understand why Briere, 38, is ready for the NHL, you need to understand his relationship with mentor and goaltending guru Mitch Korn.
Briere played under Korn's watch while with the Cincinnati Cyclones, who were an ECHL affiliate of the Nashville Predators in 2001-02. He's worked closely with Korn, now employed by the Washington Capitals, since starting his own coaching career in 2007.
"I have my level 5 certification in coaching and my master's degree in school, and spending all these years with Mitch is like getting a doctorate degree in goalie coaching," Briere told NHL.com. "I was coaching Division I College Hockey and spending days in Nashville learning from Mitch. So it wasn't like I just popped into the NHL the next day. He is by far the number one reason all of this has come about."
Briere, who also spent time as a prospects video coordinator for the San Jose Sharks, used to make the 100-mile drive from Huntsville to Nashville to spend days shadowing Korn with the Predators.
"We'd spend the day," Korn said over the phone from his goalie camp in Cincinnati. "We taught him how we pre-scout, how we prepare for games, how we post-game, all of that."
Today, Korn said two weeks don't go by without talking to Briere.
"We work on projects together, finding ways to be better, bouncing ideas off each other," Korn said. "Steve really understands the position. He was a smaller goalie himself and very cerebral, very smart. He understands everything has a purpose. He is very tech savvy. He is always thinking outside the box, like me. And he's very much like me in that we don't do the same old boring crap."
Briere becomes the latest "Children of the Korn" disciple to crack the NHL goalie coaching ranks, joining a list that currently includes Mike Valley of the Dallas Stars, Mike Bales of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and several others who have coached in the League over the past two decades.
"There are so many 'Children of the Korn' because he is a teacher," Briere said. "He is basically a professor and he teaches you how to be a professional, how to prepare, how to be patient, how to communicate with guys, and then everyone takes that information and adds their own little twist of how they think, and in my case it was the way I create my plan for a goalie."
It's a plan that has led to success at other levels.
Talbot worked with Briere at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, earning a free agent contract with the New York Rangers and enjoying two strong seasons as the backup to Henrik Lundqvist before a trade this summer to the Oilers. Look over the list of goalies during Briere's time with the Fargo Force and Omaha Lancers in the USHL, and Topeka RoadRunners in the NAHL over the past six years and you'll find a steady stream of "Goalie of the Year" winners in both leagues, many now with NHL ties like MacIntyre, Tirronen and Tomek, who was picked 90th by the Flyers at the 2015 NHL Draft.
Peter Traber went from one season in Topeka to Harvard, and Jeff Teglia turned his "top goalie" season in Omaha into a full-ride scholarship at UMass Amherst. Add in Swedish goalie Mathias Israelsson, who will go from Fargo last season to the University of Northern Michigan in the fall, and Briere, who played four seasons in England, has had success with a diverse range of goalies.
"Anything is just a fluke if you can't duplicate it multiple times at multiple levels, right?" said Briere, who has worked with four of the last five Goalie of the Year winners in the NAHL and three of five in the USHL. "Part of it is the teams, great coaching staffs creating a system and environment for goalies to do well, but I'd also like to believe people judge you by your success and if you can win Goalie of the Year basically five years in a row with different goalies playing different styles from different countries, then this is a platform."
That platform includes lessons from the business world.
Like Korn, Briere has an MBA degree and has put it to work as a coach. He owns Canadian Professional Goaltending Schools, which has grown to 30 locations in North America with separate goalie and shooter schools at each one, and uses the same principles to build goalies that he did to build his business. That includes creating personality profiles for each goaltender, which he then cross-references with his own as well as the profiles of other coaches in the organization.
"Part of business is hiring people and when hiring people you need to know personality to know how they fit in the organization," said Briere, pointing to examples of successful roster choices based on matching the profiles of a goalie and coach. "I know the strengths and weaknesses of each goalie's personality before we start and how they will fit with my own strengths and weaknesses, and how to tailor my approach. I know what is important to each guy."
Briere has already started implementing that plan with Maple Leafs goaltenders Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer, aided by the fact he was born in Quebec and can speak French easily with Bernier, while also growing up in Manitoba, just as Reimer did.
"We seemed to really connect," Bernier said. "Steve seems to be a hard-working guy and he seems to understand my game and what I need to get better to get to the next level."
That process, like everything Briere does, will be well planned.
"My plan, the same plan I give my goalies, is the same I do for my own life," Briere said. "You can't teach people things that you don't have a conviction for. My dream from Day One was to be an NHL goalie coach. Everything I have done was on the path to get here."
Now that he's in the NHL, Briere knows there will be more questions about the jump he's about to make from the USHL and NAHL, but there are already lots of good answers along the path he took to get to the Maple Leafs, and the people he worked with along the way.