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Unmasked: Goalie camps offer new means to improve

by Kevin Woodley

VANCOUVER -- For Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer, getting better during the offseason isn't only about working with new coaches. It's about learning from fellow NHL goalies.

Reimer was one of six professional goaltenders who took part in the second annual NET360 camp near his summer home in Kelowna, British Columbia, in August. The group also included Vezina Trophy finalist Devan Dubnyk of the Minnesota Wild and Thomas Greiss of the New York Islanders, as well as prospects Laurent Brossoit of the Edmonton Oilers, Chris Driedger of the Ottawa Senators and Nathan Lieuwen of the Buffalo Sabres.

"What I like about it is the dynamic of getting a whole bunch of really good goalies and just trying to figure out what they do and how they play," Reimer told "On the ice you can go through a drill and see how he takes on different plays and then talk to him if you want and talk to a bunch of different goalie coaches about it too and have a bit of a roundtable. You have an open mind to new ideas."

The group was led on the ice by three goaltending coaches. Ryan Cyr, who studied under and worked with Columbus Blue Jackets goalie coach Ian Clark and is now president of the Goaltending Development Institute (GDI) in Winnipeg, was back for a second year to lead new Philadelphia Flyers goalie development coach Brady Robinson and James Jensen, a California-based coach.

"It's like a goalie think tank," said Ray Petkau, a Manitoba-based agent who worked with trainer Adam Francilia to start NET360 camps, which also include mentoring for 12 junior and minor hockey goalies, and a focus on proper training, physiotherapy and nutrition.

"The whole philosophy, and a lot of it was a vision James had as well, was just an opportunity for some of the best in their particular areas of expertise to come together, almost like a brain trust," added Francilia, who has worked with Reimer for years and Dubnyk for two summers. "We wanted to have two-way conversations with the goalies."

Reimer tweaked his game based on some of that back-and-forth with his puck-stopping peers at the NET360 camp last year, pointing to the addition of the reverse-VH (vertical-horizontal) as a new post-play tactic for sharp-angle attacks as one example of change.

Reimer used to rely almost exclusively on the traditional VH, with the short-side pad lined vertically up against the post and the back pad flat on the ice horizontally. So it helped to be able to watch and talk to other goalies as he worked through reverse-VH, with the lead pad on the ice against the post and the back leg off the ice and used to drive the body into the post and steer rotation and movement off it.

"You get to see five different goalies, how they do it, when they use it, when they go down into it, and what their thought process is when the play is going on," Reimer said. "Glove placement, how to lean over into the post, stuff like that. That's one big thing I have learned."

NET360 isn't the only camp with a group approach to learning.

Nine NHL goalies from eight teams recently spent a week in Madison, Wis., at a camp run by Network Goaltending, a group that includes Dallas Stars goalie development coach Mike Valley and Syracuse Crunch goaltending coach David Alexander, as well as Thomas Magnusson, the head of the Swedish national goaltending program, and Hannu Nykvist, his counterpart in Finland.

It reminds Martin Biron of the pro camps current Colorado Avalanche goaltending coach Francois Allaire used to run in the offseason.

Organized by Biron's agent, Gilles Lupien, those camps featured a lot more back-and-forth between the goaltenders and Allaire than many might think. Much like the coaches at Network Goaltending and NET360 camps have grown by working with NHL goalies and each other, Biron said Allaire evolved his philosophies in those camps.

"We did learn a lot from one another," said Biron, who has worked as a part-time analyst for TSN and the NHL Network since ending his 16-year NHL career in 2013-14. "There was a ton of conversation with each other and even with Frank. We'd go for lunch and talk about where the game is going and the equipment and what is happening, and each year he'd always say, 'Here is something we changed from last year's camp because after talking with everybody we decided to adjust this a little.' There were different conversations all the time."

Biron, who also works as the director of goaltending for the Academy of Hockey at the HarborCenter in Buffalo, tried to bring a similar feel to his work with a handful of local college and junior goalies this summer. The group got together once a week for eight weeks.

"They talked together about their styles and got to know each other's game, and I think that's good if you haven't been on the ice with any of these other goalies," Biron said. "You get to know them, you get to watch them work, and that is really good for the goalies."

It can also be good for the development of the coaches.

While Allaire was famously protective of what he taught at those NHL sessions in the offseason, the Network group wrapped up their week with NHL goalies in Wisconsin by sharing what they've learned and taught at a symposium that attracted more than 100 goalie coaches from all over the world.

For goalies at the NET360 camp, the sharing extended off the ice into a mentorship program between the NHL goalies and their younger counterparts, who were at the free camp by invitation only.

That sharing environment extended to NHL shooters such as Tyler Myers and Andrew Ladd of the Winnipeg Jets, former Maple Leafs forward David Booth and Edmonton Oilers defenseman Justin Schultz, as well as a skills coach, who combined to raise the level of the drills, while also helping the goaltenders learn some of shooter's tricks and vice versa.

Off the ice, the NET360 goalies also got to work with physiotherapist Dan Bos, a specialist in head and neck injuries, Francilia, and his wife, Cathy, a nutritionist who taught goalies about the importance of a healthy diet while keeping them energized with all-natural recipes.

"Everything we do revolves around goaltending," Reimer said. "We're even tracking while doing stability work. We'll be throwing balls and it's all about tracking properly and about making saves. It's so nice to have a workout where you are not just doing straight muscle work; everything has to do with being stable when you are stopping pucks and moving around the net."

For a goalie trying to improve every summer, the only thing better is doing all that while comparing notes with other NHL goaltenders. With new camps like NET360 and Network Goaltending, it's possible.

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