Actually, to say his situation is unique may be an understatement.
But the Head Goaltending Coach of the Nashville Predators couldn’t be in a better spot. At just 32-years-old, Vanderklok was named to his current position this past summer.
His clientele, Predators netminders Pekka Rinne and Carter Hutton, are two of the best on the planet at their position, and as Vanderklok points out, they’re also outstanding human beings. That makes the young coach’s job that much more enjoyable.
“I tell everybody I’m very fortunate in the sense that my first year [on the job], I have two great people to work with,” Vanderklok said. “We have two skilled guys [in Rinne and Hutton]. I like their game, and I like them as athletes and players, but first and foremost, I think they’re phenomenal people. They’re very open to me coming in as a new guy and a new voice and they’re open to building the relationship, which is key.”
That relationship is something Rinne and Hutton also believe strongly in establishing. Nashville’s men between the pipes say that working with Vanderklok has had numerous benefits in the early going.
“He’s a good guy to work with,” Rinne said. “He’s eager to learn more, he’s eager to keep working hard and it’s a good combination. Any kind of success you have, it’s always based on hard work. That’s what we try to build our foundation on with him and it’s been good.”
“He’s helped my game, and we’ve found a lot of things to work on,” Hutton said of his goaltending coach. “I definitely use him as my eyes, and he’s really helped my game. I think I’m just getting stronger and quicker and just adapting better and better to this level.”
Adapting and improving on a daily basis is one of Vanderklok’s top goals. Whether it be film sessions, on-ice work or just getting to know Hutton and Rinne on a personal level, the Welland, Ontario, native believes that there’s always room for improvement. A former goaltender himself, winning a pair of league titles in 2002 and 2003 with the Amsterdam Tigers of the Netherlands Elite League, Vanderklok is constantly watching the performances and tendencies of his goaltenders, always eager to implement beneficial tweaks.
“Ultimately, I think what we’re looking for most are areas that we need to address,” Vanderklok said. “We always want to stay on top, so to speak and have things in order. You want to walk away feeling like [Rinne and Hutton] are at a really good point, but ultimately, every day we’re trying to get better.”
It’s obvious that a goaltender’s main objective is to stop the puck. But as Vanderklok says, there’s a time and a place to go about achieving that objective in certain ways; picking the right spots, per say.
“We always say there are no bad saves,” Vanderklok said. “There are bad save selections, there’s a right time and a wrong time to do things. We’re looking for the right decision at the right times, and then we look at the technical stuff. A lot of times, we’re going back through video in slow motion to try and really pick apart that technique to make sure it’s exactly perfect.”
Those video sessions seem to be working through the first 20-plus games. Rinne has 14 wins in 18 starts, tied for the most victories in the NHL. He also has a 1.97 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage, both of which are Top 5 in the League. Hutton is no slouch either, and while he hasn’t recorded a win yet, his 2.32 goals-against average and .914 save percentage is more than respectable.
When Rinne was injured last season, Hutton was the guy seeing a majority of the shots. Now settling into a backup role again, it’s Vanderklok that provides some extra motivation if necessary.
“You get in that lull maybe, not playing as much, so it’s good to have him give me a little kick every once in awhile and keep me going,” Hutton said. “You try to work hard, but you want to work with a purpose, and I think having him as my eyes has been really great. He’s on the ball, he’s sharp and when he comes to the rink he wants to learn, just like we do.”
“I want to have a positive mindset,” Vanderklok said. “I want to come to work every day and have a mindset that people want to be around. In any sport, you’re going to have your ups and downs. Carter doesn’t have his first win, and he wants that really badly. But it’s a lot easier to come to work when you’re in a positive mindset and you’re upbeat and people want to be around you.”
Vanderklok, Hutton and Rinne are around each other a lot. The goaltenders receive a pre-scout on every opponent, which can include video clips highlighting tendencies of the opponent’s top players. For Vanderklok, it’s all about being prepared for whatever may come over the course of a 60-minute contest.
It’s also about having support from the bench boss. Vanderklok says that Head Coach Peter Laviolette has been more than accommodating as far as allowing for ample time with the goaltenders. It makes things that much easier for Vanderklok when extra work is necessary.
“Peter has been great with me and allows me to do what I need to do,” Vanderklok said. “He’s been really supportive, allowing me to spend the time I need to spend with [the goaltenders] and do what I need to do with them.”
It’s evident that the time spent together is something the netminders enjoy. Over the course of a long season, things can fluctuate from positive to negative. Vanderklok has all the pieces in place to try to keep things new and engaging, no matter the situation.
“He’s easy to talk to, he’s always happy, there’s not too much negativity in him and he makes it fun,” Hutton said. “I think the biggest thing is that it’s fun to come to the rink and work. There are days where you show up, just like any job where you’re struggling to be there…those are the days where someone who can keep it fresh and keep it light is important to have. You can find ways to have a productive day when you’re not really feeling your best. Every day, you’ve got to get something away from it, and I think he does a good job at that.”
Vanderklok has already established himself as someone that doesn’t want to emulate a dictator. Rather, conversations on a professional level are what he goes by with Rinne and Hutton. It’s a desire to want to be the best that Vanderklok says is driving the men in the blue paint to continue to work. It’s pushing the goalie coach too.
“I just want us to come to work and want to be together so we can work to make progress,” Vanderklok said. “I want them to have the desire to come to work, regardless of how the game goes the night before. Pekka could have the game of his life, or it could go the other way, but I want him to still have that ultimate desire to come back and try to get better every day. I think at the end of the year, we’ll be happy with what we’ve accomplished if we have that mindset.”
That mindset is bringing success for Vanderklok and company. Educating those that provide the final line of defense in Nashville is paramount these days. And for the 32-year-old, it’s a darn good spot.