Advising Royalty: A Talk with David Marcoux
Amy Gist is a contributor for The Goalie Guild and the director of the Redfield Internship Program. Her goalie interviews and articles can be found on our website, and she can be followed on Twitter at @AmySnow17.
In the world of hockey, there are many multifaceted dimensions, and for lack of a better word, “kingdoms” that have to be studied and intellectually conquered. One such kingdom is that of goaltending.
Last season, many hailed Henrik Lundqvist as the crease king — but did the Swede really reign supreme, or did the crown truly belong to one of Hollywood’s shining stars, Jonathan Quick? Was Bernie Parent the penultimate sovereign Lord of the crease in Philadelphia, or does the title belong to Ron Hextall? Are backups the future princes of the court, or just jesters entertaining their leaders?
To understand the world of goaltending is to understand the complex men who play the position. And to help shed some light in the far corners of the goaltending realms, I turned to a pro goalie coach not only known for his own unique talents and abilities, but also for the names of those he has led from obscure princes of the court to celebrated kings of the crease.
David Marcoux, founder of the David Marcoux School of Goaltending (DMSG) based in Calgary, Alberta, is second to none in the world of goalie coaching. Responsible for bringing Miikka Kiprusoff from a third string goalie to an elite starter, Marcoux’s ability to accurately convey goaltending concepts and strategies to goalies at all ages and levels is nothing short of admirable and astonishing.
After being a goalie coach for almost 23 years, Marcoux says of his job, “Anybody that’s in this situation needs to have a level of commitment and a level of passion. That’s one thing I believe I have, that level of commitment throughout the years.”
David’s profession is just as unique and specialized as the players he works with, a fact that he recognizes and addresses each time he works with a goalie.
“I think everybody, in all aspects and from all different walks of life, needs a mentor. Everybody needs a coach, I truly believe in that,” Marcoux said. “To be a goalie, an individual in a team sport, it can be a lonely place. And to have somebody that you can bounce things off of, or there to keep you in line or pay attention to the fine details in your game, is obviously so important because you can quickly slip and your confidence is affected and your level of concentration is not the same. Just to have someone there as a mentor to simply help you out is a huge component to being a successful goaltender.”
But as a goalie coach, you can’t just be there saying whatever comes to mind. Marcoux has unquestionably learned how to approach each goalie according to his own learning style and quirks.
“If you have people that are saying the wrong things or are sending contradictory messages to the goaltender, there’s a negative impact there,” Marcoux said. “You need somebody who can build a relationship, and then it’s all about trust. To have that level of understanding, and to say the right things, to know not to over-coach, to know when to say certain details and when to work on certain details, and when to leave the goaltender alone — that’s a huge part of being a successful goaltending coach and having success in what your protégés can do.”
It’s a cautionary statement, really. Know when to say go and know when to say nothing at all; the goalie must always feel that the message is constructive and positive.
When it’s time to step in and say something to a goalie, there are two major factors at play. First and foremost, it is the goalie’s willingness to accept the instruction coming from the goalie coach. David is always evaluating these factors with his students.
“Is the goaltender open to suggestions, is the goaltender coachable? I’ve had the privilege of working with goaltenders of all ages, including Kiprusoff, and just to see the level of professionalism and the open-mindedness of a 27-year-old Finnish goaltender [at the time], to accept my ideas and have those open discussions with ,was incredible. Many other NHL goalies such as Curtis Joseph, Cam Ward, Brian Boucher and Jeff Deslauriers had the same attitude towards my coaching approach; they were all open to suggestions. I have a hard time grasping the fact that maybe a 12-year-old kid has a hard time being open to suggestions, and that’s really something that hinders the development of any goaltender.”
Obviously Marcoux’s abilities to coach are well-reflected in the success of Kiprusoff and the Flames between 2003 and 2009. Each year, the Flames made the playoffs with Miikka receiving both the Vezina and Jennings trophies in 2006, as well as helping the Flames to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2004.
Marcoux expanded on Miikka’s development under his instruction saying, “When he came from San Jose as the third string goalie over there…he basically saw the same scenario with two other goalies being here, and he didn’t want to be the outside guy looking in again. So we started working and did a lot of video analysis of what he was doing in net, how he could be a little bit more compact, and how he could look bigger on the shooter…because his skill set was tremendous! His hand-eye coordination was way above anything I had seen in the past, and I guess we just basically maximized his skill set, maximized his strong points, and just worked on elements of his game that he needed to improve upon to be a dominant goalie; not just a great goaltender but a very dominant one.”
ON KIPRUSOFF’S PUCK-HANDLING SKILLS
“One of the biggest things that we did address right off the bat was his puck-handling skills. At 27 years old, that was not a strong point in his game, and we improved that element by working on it daily, and ultimately it was a huge component that made him a very smart when he needed to go outside of his net. He was a huge help for defensemen like Robyn Regehr and Dion Phaneuf, and those guys could easily get the puck out of the zone very quickly now.”
Marcoux mentioned that, earlier in his career, Kiprusoff’s lack of confidence in his puck-handling skills could’ve been due to a multitude of things. Honing in on any one reason why it isn’t a widely-taught skill could be a conversation in itself, so Marcoux commented on the fact that certain teams do not spend much time on goalies handling the puck outside of their net due to a goalie’s environment (his rink) and a team’s philosophy in regards to breakouts (Goalie/D-men exchanges).
“All goalies must learn about their own rink in order to feel confident while playing the pucks outside their net,” Marcoux said.
In Marcoux’s opinion, there are certain rinks where goalie puck-handling skills are not “used” as much due to possible bad bounces.
“For example, if you play half of your games in the old Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, or at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, you’ll notice these rinks have metal stanchions to solidify the glass, and the boards are not perfectly true leading to some crazy bounces at times. Goalies and teams need to consider the rinks in which they play for goalies to feel confident at playing the puck. Having said that, more and more rinks now have seamless glass, which increases the amount of times a goalie goes out to handle the puck. It’s a tool that you must have as a goalie to be successful, as puck-handling for a goalie might mean the difference between making that NHL team, or going back to the minors to work on that part of your game.”
MARCOUX ON THE TRAPEZOID
Another factor in a goalie’s puck-handling abilities, or lack thereof, is the trapezoid.
“I know for a fact that a lot of goalies that are not great at handling the puck quietly say they love the trapezoid because it doesn’t put them in a situation where they need to be aggressive to go to the corner to try to help out,” Marcoux explained. “So it simplifies the game for the goaltenders that are not great at it. But having said that, I still think there are a lot of scoring chances – the NHL competition committee talks a lot about increasing scoring chances – created by goalies that would venture too far out of their net and turn the puck over. So I don’t see the trapezoid rule being a great thing for the game in terms of keeping the goalies closer to the nets. I think it just takes away from the great goaltenders with a lot of skill who do work on those elements, and who are great skaters that are able to go out farther. It’s an element of the game that creates offense with turnovers with goalies that are not as skilled. Good puck-handling skills result in more offense and less time in your own zone, thus increasing your chances of success. Look at Marty Brodeur or younger guys such as Braden Holtby in Washington; those guys are very comfortable when playing the puck because they have really worked on that skill, and it’s a part of their game that other goalies do not master.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNICATION
Second to puck-handling is communication.
“Kipper needed to become a better communicator,” Marcoux said.
Specifically, how he could help out his defensemen by being very vocal and saying the right things under pressure were details that were addressed.
It seems simple right? But as Marcoux points out, hockey is a multi-cultural, multi-language environment.
“When you think of it, in a hockey team you are dealing with some Swedes, English-speaking players, French-speaking players, Finns, and multiple others, so the synergy that needs to be there, that was a huge component,” Marcoux said. “When arriving to Calgary, Kiprusoff was a very quiet guy, so along with defensemen coach at the time Jim Playfair, we established from a team standpoint what simple key words we wanted to use [terms such as OVER, BACK-SIDE] in our d-zone so that everything became very clear and non-negotiable in terms of what to say and when to say it. As a result of that, we were able to get out of our zone safely and quickly.”
ON VIDEO ANALYSIS AND GOALIE COACHING
Marcoux contributes the evolution of goaltending to a handful of factors, but specifically cites goalie coaching and video analysis as two key factors.
“It has come from a transition throughout the years with having a goaltending coach that is assessing what you are doing out there, and if you look at today’s game, the goaltenders are way more efficient at what they do,” Marcoux said. “The save percentages have gone up and the goals against averages have gone down dramatically from the Bernie Parent era to today’s game.”
Marcoux continued, stressing the influence video work has had on the evolution of goaltending.
“I think that has a lot to do with video analysis,” he said. “The video analysis tool in today’s game and the arrival of goalie coaches onto NHL staffs definitely help goalies understand what they are doing out there. I believe those are the main reasons why goalies now play a calmer and controlled game, as opposed to the old-school, overly-aggressive style of play in the 80’s. The game is so quick now that goalies can no longer allow themselves to get caught out of position like they used to. I think that has a huge part in the evolution of goaltenders in recent years.”
MARCOUX ON BETTER EQUIPMENT
A lot of things have evolved in the game of hockey over the years, but specifically in the goaltending position, there is a shift in not only the mental approach to the position, but also to the gear, the physical training, and the style of play.
“In terms of protection, if you look at the Bernie Parent era that we talked about earlier, goalies would stand up a lot more because pucks used to hurt. They preferred to use their skates and stick to make saves, as opposed to their chest and head. Now the equipment is such that goalies become fearless. Unlike in the 70’s and 80’s, they totally trust that their gear will protect them. Obviously there are some shots that you can still feel, but for the most part, goalies now have very good protection so they can focus more on stopping pucks as opposed to not getting hurt.”
THE ATHLETIC GOALIE
“Top level goalies are now top level athletes, and I love it,” Marcoux said. “It used to be the chubby un-athletic, poor skater that was the tender. Goalies are now much more educated in terms of the physical demands of the position. Now you see goaltenders doing Yoga and Pilates. It’s not all about strength training anymore; it’s about flexibility and core stability, as opposed to lifting heavy weights. It’s really about balance.”
It’s also a reminder that not all goaltending development is about technique.
“The summertime is a great time to be working on those extra elements, like hand-eye coordination and flexibility. I repeat that because with all the Finnish goaltenders, that’s what really stands out with them — their level of intensity and time commitment to stretching,” Marcoux added. “We do have a better game now and goalies are way better than in the past for sure.”
To try to single out any one piece of advice from Marcoux to young goaltenders is like finding a needle in a haystack of incredible guidance. But simply stated, “To fully invest is a great way of looking at it…anything worth doing is worth doing right. If you take the time to truly commit to your development as a goaltender you need to invest time and find every little element that can help you. Mental training, Yoga, on-ice goalie-specific training, and hand-eye coordination drills are all important components to a goalie’s success.”
That being said, it’s also OK to be a little bit weird. In regards to the hockey stigma that goaltenders seem to be a little bit on the strange side, Marcoux explained it in simple terms.
“When you face a hundred mile-an-hour slap shot, you have to be a little weird and you have to be in a different mindset than everybody else. To have all the big-sized players crashing the net at high speeds, you really need to get into your bubble, get into your zone,” he said. “So there is a level of preparation that is different from any other player on the team. Their preparation is different from a mental standpoint, the technique is different, and the mindset is different.”
Three goalies that have obviously catered to their weird side and found success in routine are the top three goalies as seen through David’s eyes.
“Obviously you have to put Quick right up there. He’s been tremendous, he has all the skill-sets in terms of quickness, flexibility, and speed, and he’s at a point where he’s at the top of his game at the right age. When you do see a lot of hockey and you look around the league every night, there are some teams that are not great teams but are close because of their goaltenders, and because of that you have to include Kiprusoff, because at the end of it all, he’s so consistent. But when things go south, it’s maybe for a period, and then he’s right back on track. From that perspective, you have to look at his consistency. Lundqvist is another guy that I like to watch; he plays a ton of games and is quite consistent. He just needs to prove what he can do from a playoff perspective, and see what he can do to bring his team over the top. There are a lot of great goaltenders in the National Hockey League. The 60 goaltenders that are playing are very good goaltenders, and some of them just have to maintain that consistency to separate them from the rest.”
David also gave a nod to the great Martin Brodeur.
“Marty never ceases to amaze me. The day that you think he’s done, he just keeps on plugging away and just finds a way to elevate his game and dominate his game. The biggest thing, the biggest quality of Marty B, is his level of compete; he’s not the most elegant goaltender, he’s not the most technical goaltender, but he does have a vast experience with every player tendency in the league. He knows what the player tendencies are, he knows what the team’s tendencies are; he really does his hockey homework before every game. That is an element of the game that is overlooked in terms of preparation. The other thing too is that Marty is a great team player as well. The players need to play a certain way in the d-zone and Marty is the quarterback out there, and he definitely dictates what that team needs and how that team needs to play.”
So who is David’s current “King of the Crease” in the NHL?
“In my opinion Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick should be seen as the King even though Lundqvist had a great year and a Vezina.”
If the goalies are the royalty of the rink, it is no question that men such as Marcoux are their trusted advisors; guiding them into and through the battles they face not only on the ice, but also in the world.
Marcoux carries on his teachings to a new generation of goalies through his school of goaltending which offers private lessons, camps and clinics across Canada in Calgary, Ottawa, Montreal and Sherbrooke. In-season private instruction is based in Calgary.