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Unmasked: Goalie symposium 'think tank' for coaches

by Kevin Woodley

VANCOUVER -- Longtime NHL goalie and new San Jose Sharks assistant coach/goaltending coach Johan Hedberg called it a gathering of goalie nerds, and he meant it as a compliment.

Hedberg was happy to be one of more than 100 goalie coaches from around the world that got together in Madison, Wis., in late August for the inaugural Network Goaltending Symposium, two-and-a-half days of sharing ideas about a constantly-evolving position.

Hedberg, who left the New Jersey Devils' goalie development role in the summer for the top job in San Jose, was joined by new Sharks goaltending development coach Evgeni Nabokov at the symposium. Eight NHL teams were represented, which followed a week-long Network Goaltending pro camp that also attracted goalies from eight NHL teams.

"It's good for us who work at the pro level because the guys at this event are so interested in goaltending," Hedberg told "They are the goalie nerds of the world and they have a lot of ideas, a lot of thoughts and put a lot of time and thought process into why things are different ways and what to try and what not to try and so forth. We have a lot to learn from these people, so I really appreciated it and got my mind into the hockey mode again."

Longtime Devils goalie coach Chris Terreri and Scott Clemmensen, who took the Devils' goalie development job after ending his playing career this summer, were there.

"It was a very cerebral group, almost like a think tank," Clemmensen said.

It's that kind of environment that feeds the steady improvement of goaltenders worldwide.

"It's a pretty interesting position within the hockey game because goalies are very curious, they want to learn, they are open to ideas and changes, maybe more so than a lot of players," Hedberg said. "And the goalie nerds behind this kind of movement, you are taking something that was a game and turning it into a science and it brings everybody up a notch."

Despite being so recently removed from playing in the NHL, Clemmensen and Hedberg each came away from the event with new ideas about a position they made a career of.

"If you look at the diversity that was in the room, it was impressive, and there was no way you were going to leave there without learning quite a lot," Clemmensen said. "But that's one of the things that makes it work, there aren't any egos and I don't think anybody approached the weekend with the mindset, 'I know everything.' You wouldn't be there if that was the case."

The event was organized by Network Goaltending, a group whose founders include Dallas Stars director of goaltending development Mike Valley, Tampa Bay Lightning goalie development coach David Alexander, and Hannu Nykvist and Thomas Magnusson, who run the national goaltending programs in Finland and Sweden, respectively. It was designed to mimic the successful national gatherings that have helped make Finland and Sweden leaders in goaltending development, and bring that concept of sharing to North America.

"Our annual goalie coaching symposium is based around bringing any coach from any level into an egoless environment where they can feel safe and empowered to share information and connect with fellow coaches," Valley said. "We want to create a positive atmosphere so that everyone is focused on making each other better through the learning process."

It had a familiar feel for Magnusson.

"The Network symposium was structured very much like the national conventions we've had in Sweden over the past years," he said. "High-end presentations by experts in various fields such as off-ice training, sports vision, rehab, and of course different technical and tactical aspects of the game. Panel discussions with pro goalie coaches have also been part in both continents."

That shared learning environment has been credited for the success of national goalie programs in Sweden and Finland, with each country taking ideas and lessons from their group meetings and trickling it down to youth hockey through goalie coach certification programs.

Hockey Canada has introduced the first stage of a similar coaching certification, but with most of the goalie coaching in North America still being done in private schools and camps that can be extremely profitable, there was also a reputation for being secretive and not sharing.

Magnusson didn't see any of that in Wisconsin.

"The Network Symposium was in no way different from what I have experienced back home," he said. "Once again I found myself in the same situation I have been through several times now. I met a number of goalie coaches from the continent where I am told there is very little sharing and all these wonderful people do is share. I have yet to meet those who don't share. Who are they and when will I meet them? Do they actually exist or are they only a myth?"

As Clemmensen said, the environment at Network leant itself to that sharing mindset, including smaller breakout groups led by the 12 professional goalie coaches in attendance, a group that also included Rob Tallas of the Florida Panthers, Mike Bales of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Jordan Sigalet of the Calgary Flames as well as goaltending coaches from the American Hockey League and Europe.

"This was a very valuable environment," Sigalet said. "I believe anytime you can put egos aside and learn from other coaches no matter what level they are at you can always find ways to make yourself a better coach. Sitting down in breakout groups to discuss different topics and listen to different coaches' perspectives and ideas was very valuable as well as the drill share that we did that at the end of the day allowed us to each walk away with 100 new drills."

Hedberg has been able to lean on former NHL goalie coaches like Ian Clark, now with the Columbus Blue Jackets, for help with his transition. But for some of the NHL coaches, the chance to learn and share at Network was a new experience.

"For me who has a network already, I was maybe a little spoiled," Hedberg said. "But other guys don't have the same kind of people around them to bounce ideas off and share thoughts with."

At the Network Symposium, everyone got to benefit from that kind of sharing, and whether they were coaching in the League or coaching waist-high kids, they should be better for it.

"This was a very good first step toward reaching a common goal, which is to make all goalies better," Clemmensen said.

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