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Valuable Lessons: Part 2

August 11, 2011 General No Comments

Valuable lessons: Part 2
By Mitch Korn
Oct 29, 2001, 21:03


Last month, I talked about some of the “Lessons Learned” during my coaching career, and whom I have to thank for them. Now comes part two; more lessons I’d like to share.

Don’t rest on your laurels

No matter how successful you’ve been, you can’t simply rest on your previous accomplishments. You must always be willing to adjust.

Grant Fuhr is a case in point.

Grant Fuhr, the man Wayne Gretzky more than once hailed as “the greatest goaltender in the world,” has won five Stanley Cups. He played his entire career relying on reflexes and a great glove hand.

And while you’d think five Cups might be enough, you’d be wrong. Fuhr wants a sixth.

After a tough time with injuries a year ago, Grant re-invented his game in Buffalo (before being traded to Los Angeles). He made some very necessary adjustments—adjustments thathad to be made because of his age, his loss of some speed and flexibility and, to some extent, because of changes in the game itself.

Just because something worked yesterday does not mean it will work tomorrow. You should always be a student, and be willing to adjust.

Be open to learning

The truth is, you can learn from anyone if you give them a chance. I remember after the Sabres hired me, I met Clint Malarchuk, who is now with Las Vegas of the IHL. I had no professional playing or coaching experience at the time, and Malarchuk was a 10-year NHL veteran.

When Malarchuk asked me about my credentials, I replied that I had been at a major Division I university for the past 12 years. His response?

“Twelve years in college? You must not be too bright!”

From that point forward, we hit it off great. He gave me a chance, helped me adjust to the pro game, and did everything I asked of him. Until some health problems came up that year, Clint was in the top five in NHL save percentage—while playing on a struggling team.

And what about Grant Fuhr? He hadn’t had a goalie coach in the 10 years he played pro hockey (and won those five Cups—along with a Vezina Trophy and two Canada Cups). Yet he, too, did everything asked of him while he was in Buffalo.

Even the great ones should never be afraid to learn.

Focus is foremost

I never realized how important focus was until my first year in the Buffalo organization, while working with David Littman. When he was “on,” he was great (playing at the AHL level). But there were times when pucks went in the 5-hole, or past his glove, or under his arm in situations where he would—should—normally make the stop.

When I asked him, “Did you see the puck go in?,” he was never sure—a dead giveaway that he wasn’t focused on the puck.

With great concentration, the puck can look like a beach ball. Without it, it will always look like a pea.

Pressure and anger don’t help

When I got to Buffalo, the city’s love affair with Daren Puppa was over. The former All Star and Vezina Trophy runner-up had contract problems, and had become a playoff scapegoat for the fans and media. He was mad and under great pressure—a deadly combination, and a no-win situation.

Every mistake he made was magnified, and further compounded his problem. He got madder, and the pressure increased.

The change of scenery (to Toronto and then Tampa Bay) was just what the doctor ordered for Puppa. Along with a new contract, the Tampa fans and organization gave him the feeling that he was appreciated—and his play has reflected that.

Coaches and parents must be positive and supportive of the goaltender at every age—from youth leagues to the NHL.

Hockey is not the most important thing

Everyone learns this eventually, often painfully. During his time with the Sabres organization, John Bradley (now playing in the ECHL) lost his father. Earlier, while at Boston University, he lost his mother. John was all alone, yet he shouldered all the family responsibility. In times like those, hockey just doesn’t seem so important.

I know that hockey is not the be-all and end-all of existence, and was recently reminded of that again when my wife lost her father.

Let’s get our priorities straight: family is Number One, school is Number Two. Then, and only then, comes hockey.

My thanks to all those who have helped me make sense of the lessons that were there for me to learn.


Mitch Korn is the goaltender coach for the Buffalo Sabres of the NHL. In addition, he is an administrator at Miami University (Ohio) and directs the 8-week Summer Hockey School. Miami has Division I ice hockey in the CCHA.

This first appeared in the 06/1995 issue of Hockey Player Magazine®
© Copyright 1991-2001 Hockey Player® and Hockey Player Magazine®

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