Former New York Rangers goaltender Steve Valiquette was quite the well-traveled pro puck-stopper. Not only did he play in 46 NHL games over a nine-year span, but he also spent more than eight seasons in the American Hockey League with seven different teams, then two more seasons in Russia and one more in Italy.
All of those experiences provided him with extremely valuable insight over the years, but what he learned from two of the best teachers out there — Henrik Lundqvist and goalie coach Benoit Allaire — now plays a major role in his new profession.
Photo Copyright: SteveValiquette.com
Hired just last week as the goalie consultant for the New York Islanders, Valiquette has embarked on a new journey that will greatly benefit the organization’s goaltending.
Working with goalie prospects is something that Steve takes very seriously right now. During the last NHL lockout, he played in the AHL with Hartford and posted the league’s lowest goals-against average (1.77), earning him the Harry “Hap” Holmes Memorial Award (along with Jason LaBarbera) for the league’s lowest team GAA.
Due to the lockout, Allaire spent that season goalie coaching in Hartford, and it gave Steve the support and guidance he needed to put together the best season of his pro career.
Knowing that more NHL teams are benefiting from the two-goalie-coach system (currently at 16 of 30 teams have it), and knowing what type of influence Allaire had on his success in the AHL, Valiquette knows he must step in and be a vital component to the organization’s short and long-term success in goal.
With that in mind, I spent some time getting to know Valiquette’s coaching philosophy, and learning more about his goals for Bridgeport’s talented tandem of Anders Nilsson and Kevin Poulin.
Photo Copyright: SteveValiquette.com
JG: Can you talk real quickly about how you landed this new opportunity with the Islanders?
SV: “Well I was planning on going to Djurgarden and playing there after signing a two-year contract. But in mid-June I felt that I wasn’t as committed as I had been in the past to training and getting on the ice, and I felt like I was actually more committed to coaching and my family. So I was just true to myself and decided to make the call. We moved into a new house and we had another child, so it just seemed like the right decision. So I called up Garth Snow, we met a week later, and I was really excited to just get into coaching and getting hired as the goalie consultant for the Islanders. It’s a really big deal for me and something I take it very, very seriously. Commitment wise, and for all the right reasons with my family, it was an easy decision.”
JG: How did the talks go with Garth, and what did you guys plan out for your role as the goalie consultant?
SV: “Garth said Ill be making periodic trips to the Island when I’m needed there. I’m only an hour away from Long Island, and only 10 minutes from Bridgeport, so it’s a pretty fortunate set of circumstances. Three days a week I’ll be on the ice with the goalies in Bridgeport. Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson are both top-flight AHL guys, so it’s going to be a great mix for me to work with. Outside of that, I’ll be doing some scouting as far as narrowing down the goalies before the draft and of course taking a look at that, and then helping out with guys we might potentially sign after they’re drafted.”
JG: What is your first impression of both Poulin and Nilsson? I regard them both as elite prospects, but what have you seen so far in training camp?
SV: “Well both guys are certainly guys that I anticipate will be playing in the NHL down the line. With both guys, they’re very strong in a lot of areas that are hard to coach. But shots that are 10 feet out, the reaction time seems to be really high end. I think it’s just going to be a matter of us nailing down the dead angles, really. It’s something where I think between the two guys they have maybe a little uncertainty on save selections. But aside from that, they’re both very very strong guys and very coachable. On top of that, their work ethic is really high-end. So I think it’s a pretty deadly combination for success.”
JG: How does it help you knowing that both guys are so competitive, and will be pushing each other to earn every single start they get this season?
SV: “There are certainly two goalies here that are going to play in the NHL, but only one net. So I’m definitely going to have to work on giving them a lot of reps before and after practice from areas of the ice that they’re not going to see during a team practice. I feel like that’s my role more than anything else; to make sure they’re sharp in most areas where they’re not going to see a lot of pucks during the practices, so that when they do play, especially if it is an extended period of time for either guy, then that’s how I’m going to keep pushing both guys. I’ll certainly let both know they’re in the plans for the future and give them every opportunity to prove to Garth and Mike Dunham that they want to be a part of the organization as well.”
JG: What is your philosophy or main goal heading into your first season with the Islanders and SoundTigers?
SV: “Well I know what I want [to accomplish] because I was in the American League for eight years, and I never had a goalie coach except for during the lockout where I had Benoit Allaire stay with myself and LaBarbera. It turned out to be my best year because I had the right kind of help. So I’m just going to do a lot like what Benny did with us. He worked on cutting the ice up into three different areas. The first was the dead angles, which runs from just inside the bottom of the hash marks along the boards to the far post, and there’s six or seven different sequences that take place inside that dead angle, and I’d like the guys to have one answer for each of them. That’s really simple, it’s just hammering away each day with repetition on fundamentals so when the game begins, there’s no internal dialogue for them — they’re not thinking, it’s just going to come. Around the eight-foot area around the net, that’s more of a technical blocking area for us, and as long as they’re within four feet the puck, I’m going to make sure that their eyes are attached, and they’re exploding through the motions and playing a really good technical game inside of that.”
JG: On that note, knowing how important eye-attachment is to successful goaltending, what specifically might you do to help both guys excel in that area?
SV: “I alluded to this earlier, but both guys are really strong from what I call the Quiet Eye area — outside of eight feet — where they are in position and waiting on their feet for releases and reacting to the puck. I feel like my job is to make sure I’m cutting out any kind of delay or transition that they may have to get them into shooting lanes sooner and have them achieve that quiet eye. You know, five-hundred milliseconds to one full second before the release.”
JG: I spoke with Marc Cheverie last week and he mentioned working with you over the summer, and this concept of the Quiet Eye. Can you quickly explain this? I’ve done research on it and I love the theory behind it, but many of my readers have probably never heard of it before.
SV: “Well the Quiet Eye is something that anyone can research online. A lady named Joan Vickers from the University of Calgary has spent her whole life on this theory. Joan works closely with another company I work with, and we’ve gotten to know her system in relation to goaltending. She has a camera that she focuses on the goalie’s eye with mirrors, and it can precisely nail down and articulate what the gaze of the eye is seeing before the puck is released from a player’s stick. What she found was that the highest level goalies are the ones that have the longest duration of the gaze. So basically, this ‘quiet eye’ period is the critical moment that occurs in every sport where the eyes are receiving information and sending it to the brain, and that time gives [goalies] the ability to wait longer for the puck to arrive. Some of the best goalies in the league simply wait the longest, around 500 milliseconds to one full second.”
JG: So in a basic sense, it’s simply training the eyes to absorb as much information as possible just before a shot is taken, and that allows a goalie to be more patient and more confident with their reactions.
SV: “Exactly. Furthermore what I would say Justin is that it’s something I felt when I was on top of my game, and it’s something I always believed in theory. The fun part about coaching for me now is doing all the research and finding answers to back up what I felt and what I believe in theory.”
The Goalie Guild would like to thank Steve for his time, and we wish him the best of luck in his first season with the Islanders. If you would like more information on Valiquette, please visit his website at SteveValiquette.com and learn about his private lessons and goalie clinics in the Bridgeport area!