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IN DEPTH: Net Gains

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers
As Laurent Brossoit donned his first American Hockey League All-Star jersey last weekend, representing the Bakersfield Condors in the annual event, one could hypothesize that his career’s rapid ascent will soon reunite him with an important figure to his success.

When the day comes that Brossoit earns his desired callup to Edmonton, the between-the-pipes prospect will join his former mentor in junior. Brossoit was one of Dustin Schwartz’s pupils whilst the goalie coach assisted the Edmonton Oil Kings WHL squad, raising the young men in the crease.

“I want to work with him as soon as possible,” said Brossoit. “I always enjoy working with him. The sooner the better.”

While Schwartz helped Brossoit become a promising young netminder, today the coach is expected to provide similar tutelage to the more established veterans playing in Edmonton.

Schwartz knew from the start he wanted to be a goaltender, strapping on the pads at a young age, whirling around Alberta’s minor hockey programs. His competitive nature led him to never want to leave the ice. He knew he had a desire to teach while attending and playing at the University of Alberta. An eye for coaching developed somewhere along the line, starting early with the respect he had for his dad’s work in that department.

Schwartz’s journey to the NHL coaching ranks took him from small towns scattered across Alberta, through the WHL and CIS, to Europe for a short stint with Team Canada and back again to Edmonton. Schwartz believes in developing a relationship with each individual athlete, building trust between player and coach so that technique can be refined. One-on-one interaction, communication and development is the name of Schwartz’s game.
 Photo by Getty Images
"I've always wanted to play goal."

No matter what age you are or what level or role you play, odds are you want to score. The red light flashes, the horn sounds, the crowd goes nuts. Makes sense to want to be the cause of such euphoria. But Dustin Schwartz had different life goals.

Drawn to the athleticism the goalie position required, the skill and competitiveness, Schwartz knew from day one he wanted to play in net. Growing up, Schwartz was like the rest of the kids learning to skate. He’d rip around the outdoor rinks, spraying snow over his dad and friends as he got better at this whole skating thing.

When he was learning to skate, Schwartz admired the equipment and the helmets of the older kids who played between the pipes. When he was ready, in Atom, he began to play goalie competitively.

“It was just kind of the position I chose,” he said. Judging by his career path, the position just as much chose him.

“As much as I enjoyed being on the outdoor rink and shooting pucks and stuff like that, I loved the challenge of keeping the puck out. The other thing is, you always got to play the whole game. You never had to take a shift off. I like to be in the game and the competitive part a lot.”

St. Paul, AB was the site of Schwartz’s first adventure in stopping pucks. Luckily for him, the kids in front of the net were good enough to help him start on the right foot.

“I remember going up through provincials in Atom and all those kind of cool memories you have as a kid,” he said. “I was lucky. Fortunately, for whatever reason, I was always on good teams throughout my own minor hockey career. Obviously, as a goalie, it’s nice to have the support in front of you or it gets tough. Right from a youngster, I was fortunate with that.”

Schwartz’s dad worked in the lumber industry, in an upper-management position, so the family bounced around a bit while Dustin was playing minor hockey. Eventually, the Schwartz clan settled in Stettler, a two-hour trek south of Edmonton. That’s where Schwartz’s family resides today.

Although Schwartz has always been an Alberta boy, he was never passionate about either the Oilers or the Calgary Flames. Schwartz was always drawn exclusively to goaltenders.

Patrick Roy’s competitiveness and intense edge was a instant magnet for Schwartz. When Marty Brodeur entered the league, Schwartz was drawn to him as well.

“I never really had one team,” Schwartz said. “I was a big players guy. I loved the game, I loved different players. I never really solely cheered for one team.”

When it came time to advancing Schwartz’s own goalie career, he chose to take it to Medicine Hat to play for the WHL’s Tigers. He spent one and a half seasons there before moving to Red Deer. He finished his WHL career with the Rebels.

Photo by Andy Devlin
“In Medicine Hat, I was young and kind of getting my feet wet,” said Schwartz. “Initially, I didn’t get to play a lot but it was a great experience. I went from there to Red Deer where I got to play a little bit more. Both were good hockey communities, and communities that being a part of was important to me. The community service side of it and serving both communities, you’d get involved or do whatever you could. In Medicine Hat, they had a real sense of tradition and winning and that sort of thing.

“My first couple years there it was excellent. We had a good team and we kind of had met expectations and so on and so forth. We had some good players and the organization was really strong. It was one of the better teams in the league for a long time. Then when I went to Red Deer, it was kind of the start of where they took off to win the Memorial Cup a couple years after I was there. Both great hockey towns and some good coaching along the way as well.”

Schwartz closed out his junior stint in the AJHL for the Lloydminster Blazers in 2000. Three year prior, when he was just beginning his junior years, Schwartz skated in Phoenix at the Coyotes NHL training camp. He even played one exhibition game.

“I was undrafted but I went to camp there. I had a really good camp. I was really happy and pleased with how everything went there.”

Schwartz received some offers to play in the ECHL and other minor pro ranks, but he felt it was important that when he finished his junior career he’d begin getting an education. In 2000, Schwartz began his career with the University of Alberta Golden Bears.

“I can honestly say it was the right decision,” said Schwartz.

“I decided I was going to go to the U of A, based on tradition, winning, the culture and everything that had been a part of that program for such a long period of time. I wanted to be a part of that.”

Schwartz would play for the U of A from 2000 to 2005. His greatest achievement during his time there came in his final game as a Golden Bears goaltender. The U of A won the National Championship at Rexall Place.

“We were down 3-1 going into the third period and we stormed back in front of 13,000 people and ended it in overtime,” Schwartz said. “It was my fifth year, it was my fifth national championship I’d been to and it was the only one we won. Definitely left on the right note.”

While at school, Schwartz studied physical education, and education. Drawn to teaching, Schwartz was a natural fit for a coaching occupation. As he finished his playing career, he was approached to join the Oil Kings organization. Schwartz’s dad coached hockey and baseball, so the respect for the field was already there. He just needed an opportunity, and he took it.
 Photo by Andy Devlin
"He's very intense, very passionate and he’s one of the hardest working goalie coaches I’ve ever been able to work with.”

That’s what comes to Laurent Brossoit’s mind when he thinks of Schwartz as a coach. Schwartz and the standout netminder for the Oil Kings crossed paths in the 2012-13 season. Whether by coincidence or not, Brossoit’s numbers improved in both goals-against average and save percentage from the previous season.

Schwartz was meticulous in his preparation that season, according to Brossoit.

“You come to the rink and he’s always got something for you to work on,” said the goaltender. “He puts the hours in to watch video and always comes prepared and knows what you need to work on each and every day, whether it’s something technical or something mental. He always knew what to bring and kind of when to leave you alone and let you figure it out. I just feel like he reads goalies very well and I appreciated having that in junior.”

In addition to Brossoit, Schwartz would help bring along Pittsburgh Penguins goalie prospect Tristan Jarry, who’d win a Memorial Cup championship with the Oil Kings.

“To have the ability to come into an organization like the Oil Kings and have the two goaltenders we had there, they were young. Some maturity in their game needed to happen,” said Schwartz. “There was definitely a lot of upside with both of those guys. There were a few battles along the way with just learning for myself and for them. We kind of grew together. With the team as successful as it was, they just kind of grew with that group. I was lucky to be a part of it.

“Both the goalies are two guys I still stay in touch with. We’ve built great relationships along the way. I think they’d agree we all learned along the way. I don’t think that learning curve ever ends, whether you’ve been coaching for 20 years or 10 years. I think there’s always a curve of learning in order to find different ways to get to the athlete, how you articulate, what development pieces are in place for each athlete I think is a little bit different. Tristan and LB were totally different goalies. Similar in size, but different in the way they played the game. It was a constant challenge to find ways to push them to be better and find ways to help them develop technically and mature.”

Now, Jarry is enjoying a successful first AHL season with the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins, in which his GAA and save percentage are among the best in the league. Brossoit is an All-Star, who has assumed number one duties for the Oilers primary development affiliate in Bakersfield.

“He helped me in so many different ways. It’s hard to just name one,” said Brossoit. “He just helped me on the mental side. He was always in my corner and really believed in me. He made that very clear and that was nice for my confidence.”

With Schwartz’s help, the Oil Kings collected two WHL championships and a Memorial Cup in 2014. In 2013, he coached for Team Canada, helping the U-18 summer team take gold at the 2013 Ivan Hlinka tournament.

Just as Brossoit and Jarry have advanced, so has their mentor, from the junior ranks to the big show.

Schwartz went from building confidence and maturity in young goalies’ games to achieving the dream of coaches— making the leap to the NHL.

On November 24, 2014, the Oilers added Schwartz to their staff.
 Photo by Andy Devlin
Schwartz had to leave a teaching job at Vimy Ridge Academy to join the Oilers organization. He was in the midst of teaching Grade 8 science when the club came calling.

“It was exciting,” said Schwartz. “As much as it’s the jump or the level I think everybody aspires to coach at, it was something I always hoped would come to fruition somewhere, some place some time. When the call came, I was interested for sure. I was in a tough situation. I had a lot of other things going on, but it was something I couldn’t pass up. It’s the opportunity to be a part of the Oilers organization. It was obviously a privilege. We start to see the direction things are going and stuff, it’s pretty exciting. You look back on that day and it’s one I’ll never forget for sure.”

Schwartz was no stranger to professional athletes, having done some work with them before, but never on a daily basis. The coach had confidence in his knowledge of the technical side of things so the adjustment was more about communicating the ‘why’ factor, he says.

Photo by Andy Devlin
“I think the biggest thing is they know their game better than anyone else and in order for you to make an adjustment in their game, I think it’s really important that you can explain why you’re encouraging that change to take place, and then choosing the right time to implement it.”

Schwartz says there are limited opportunities in-season to make adjustments to an NHL goalie’s game. With little time to refine the player’s skill and technique, communication becomes all the more important.

“There’s little tweaks that can be made here and there, but a lot of it is maintenance, and I think in order to make adjustments it takes time,” said Schwartz. “They’ve been wired a certain way for long periods of time so in order for you to encourage that adjustment or change to happen, it doesn’t happen over night. I think the biggest thing is the relationship part of it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a young athlete or a professional goalie. I think the relationship piece is real important and that takes time too.

“You have to get to know each individual, figure out what makes them tick, what buttons to push and when and identify what’s too much and what’s not enough. There are things like video. How much video do you do? Each guy is different. I think there’s a learning curve to get to know the athlete and get to know the person themselves. From there you can start to work through it a bit.”

Much as he was when he worked with the Oil Kings, Schwartz is meticulous with the Oilers. He arrives at the rink long before his pupils. He then crafts a detailed plan of attack for the day. When Anders Nilsson and Cam Talbot arrive for practice, Schwartz has everything ready. The coach has a practice plan set up with everything the goalies need to work on during their session. He’ll have video clips ready to go over as well.

Schwartz meets with the goalies early to go over the plan and opens his line of communication with the two.

“I like to take a little feedback from them to make sure we’re targeting things they feel are important to them that they need to keep working on,” said Schwartz. “Then, we typically do a little bit of video. We’ll take whatever concept we’re covering on the ice then make sure the video kind of attaches to whatever it is we’re working on and we’ll get on the sheet.”

You might not think there’s much Schwartz can show the goalies in video, but that would not be true. Video is a helpful tool Schwartz keeps in his coaching arsenal.

Photo by Andy Devlin
“Tendencies and specific trends that are happening, whether it’s game to game and you start to see things that maybe are real positive and things you maybe need to make adjustments with,” he said. “That’s the ‘why’ piece. You get the goalies to understand what adjustments need to happen. They’ve got to understand why and they’ve got to buy into that. Video is a strong tool for being able to justify that information and lots of different things like positional play, where they are in the paint off different situations, whether it’s in zone, in traffic or off the rush. It’s things like the tracking part of the game, which has obviously grown to new levels over the last number of years and how they’re tracking the puck and save execution and all those things. We look at their puck handles too.”

There’s an unbelievable amount of technique and reviewable moments in between the pipes and inside the blue paint. Schwartz goes over all of it.

A year ago, a ‘revolutionary’ technique was all the rage in the NHL. Head Trajectory was becoming an increasingly common term around the League, credited to Stephen Valiquette. It’s something Schwartz is very familiar with as well.

“I’ve been involved with that whole program for quite a while now,” Schwartz said. “It’s kind of a tool. I relate it to a curriculum I guess. It’s something that each individual can gain an understanding of and then recognition of where application can happen and the values that happen within different situations in the game.”

Nilsson is more experienced in Head Trajectory than Talbot, having studied it with Valiquette while with the New York Islanders organization.

“We kind of speak a similar lingo,” said Schwartz. “With Cam, (with the New York Rangers they) obviously talked about it because it’s been out there and that. We talked about it in a little more depth and I think now it’s to the point where our terminology of tracking and that sort of thing has grown a lot. There’s still room but it’s grown a lot. The athletes are now the ones that make reference to it. It’s kind of cool. It’s to the point where we sit down and do video and I can pretty much let them run the mouse and show me what I need to see. That piece is kind of neat. They’ve grown a lot through the year and with the understanding of that as well.”

As Schwartz stands next to his goalies on the ice at practice, pointing out what they went over in their morning video session, it’s clear he’s enjoying himself. The Oilers goalie coach has studied his craft for years, has practiced it in both the classroom and on the ice and is now applying it at the NHL level.

As a kid, Schwartz only ever wanted to be a goalie. He achieved those dreams at several levels, and now is tasked with helping NHL goalies achieve their own aspirations— one video session, one conversation, one lesson at a time.

There’s more to coaching goalies than telling them to, “stop the puck.”

Converse. Teach. Review. Refine. And, of course, stop the puck.

By Chris Wescott/

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