03/04/2009 12:22 AM -
Story by Mark Newman. Photo by Getty Images.
Jim Bedard loves his job, and like most hockey coaches, he seems to have a natural affinity for sharing his passion of the game.
Now in his 12th season with the Red Wings, Bedard works with all goaltenders in the team’s system, splitting his time between Detroit and Grand Rapids, as well as throughout the junior and minor leagues to keep an eye on prospects.
Like others who excel in their profession, he seems born for the role, although in reality, he came to the work almost unintentionally.
Originally drafted in 1976 by the Washington Capitals, Bedard played parts of two seasons in the NHL, then found himself at a crossroads after bouncing among five minor league teams during the 1979-80 season.
Bedard ended up playing 14 seasons in Finland, which is where he unknowingly found his knack for coaching.
“I was usually the only foreign player on the team, and in Finnish hockey back then, guys still had part-time jobs. But some of them would get together at lunch to skate,” he recalled.
“The team had ice available, so three or four guys would show up. Our coaches had other responsibilities – they were there only at night so I took it upon myself to casually run the practice in the morning.
“I did drills that would help me and I did drills that would help the defense and forwards. It kept me sharp, kept me busy and kept me fit. I used to do this three times a week and sometimes even four.
“We had these little competitions after we skated and we all started having our lunches there. Well, after a while we were up to 10, 11 or 12 guys.”
It was in Finland that Bedard also met his wife, Arja, who is now a Pilates instructor at White Oaks Resort in Niagara Falls, Ontario, where they live.
“Finland was a great experience,” said Bedard, who started working with the OHL’s Niagara Falls Thunder upon his return to the States. “Without even knowing it, I was training myself for what I’m doing now.”
Bedard sets his own schedule, which includes attending as many practices and games as time allows, so he is able to work closely on the ice with his goaltenders as well as observe them in action.
It means a lot of travel, but being on the road is a prerequisite for the job. “You’ve got to go to the goldmine. The goldmine doesn’t come to you,” Bedard said.
His practice sessions are typically a combination of maintenance and instruction.
“I’d say it’s 70 percent maintenance and 30 percent teaching, and the maintenance level rises as you go higher (in the ranks). Guys are what they are but you want them to be the best that they can be by practicing those things that seem to give them trouble.”
Some goalies, for example, are better at lateral movement than others. Some have difficulty covering plays that develop behind the net. Others struggle with odd-man rushes.
“We try to pinpoint their problem areas and specify their needs so they can fix them. If a guy can’t get up and down fast, we’re going to work on getting up and down fast. As I watch games I take notes, and then we put it all in the blender and do what’s best for our goalies.”
During games, Bedard scouts not only the Red Wings’ prospects but also the opposing goalies. “We’ll use the information later, maybe years down the road, when we’re playing a goalie who’s made it up to the National Hockey League from the AHL.”
Bedard is able to share his impressions through RinkNet, the scouting system that goes out to all of the Red Wings scouts located throughout the world.
“When I get up in the morning, I’ll have a cup of coffee and I’ll sit down at my computer and write down my observations and the plusses and minuses,” Bedard said. “When I hit synchronize, it goes through the Internet on a secured network, so that our scout in Russia can read it just as easily as any of our scouts across North America. The days of just pen and paper are long gone.”
Bedard likes to change the drills he uses during practices, but there are some messages worth repeating.
“When I’m working with players in the minors, especially the younger goaltenders, it’s just ‘Stay focused on the puck.’ It sounds easy, like telling someone to keep their head down when they’re swinging at a golf ball. It sounds a lot easier than it is to do.”
“Another thing that’s hard to do, even though it sounds easy, is communicate with the other players on the ice. It’s easy to be a Silent Sam, but at the same time a lack of communication hurts your breakouts, it hurts your coverage in front of the net, it hurts a lot of things. We remind the guys to talk. There’s no such thing as too much communication.”
If nothing else, Bedard demands that his goalies put forth maximum effort.
“As long as they work hard and have a positive attitude, I’ll fight for them tooth and nail. So we like to establish a good work ethic. We’re on the ice early, we’re on late, we do extra skating. We do all those things that allow us to stay ahead of the grade,” Bedard said.
“(Red Wings) coach (Mike) Babcock always says if you work hard, your skill will come out, and I’m a big believer in that. These guys want to win. They realize there’s a lot of responsibility on their shoulders and they’re grooming themselves for the next level.
“They see what awaits them at that last stone in the pyramid. They want to be there.”
As much as Bedard is a technician, he realizes that psychology often plays a critical role in a goaltender’s success.
“As a goalie, you have to have a certain confidence and a little bit of a swagger. It doesn’t matter which goalie you’re talking - you can name any – there have been bumps in the road for everybody. There will be tough nights where their confidence is tweaked. It’s how they deal with it and what happens after.”
The prevailing opinion is that it takes longer for goaltenders to develop into NHL players than forwards or defenseman. As a former NHL goaltender, Bedard knows what it takes to not only reach the top ranks but also what is required to stay there.
“What happens is their panic level goes down and that comes from experience,” Bedard said. “You can only get experience one way and that’s by playing game after game, year after year, facing situations where you don’t panic, you don’t get flustered.
“If someone runs you over, you don t get off your game. You just dust yourself off and say, ‘Oh well.’ Maybe you hold the puck a little longer so you can get yourself back together, but when they drop the puck, you carry on.
“It just takes time. It’s a process. If you look at goalies over different eras, you’ll see guys who have come in and have been flashes in the pan, but the real genuine test of any goalie is longevity. Chris Osgood has played 15 years in the NHL now but it’s not been all roses.
“Hard work takes the bumps out of the road. It’s not an easy job. All you have to do is do the math. Look at the number of goalies and how many nets there are. Everybody is trying to win and move up the ladder.”
When Bedard looks at the prospects that Detroit has waiting in the wings, he’s excited about the future.
Jimmy Howard, in particular, has made great progress during his time in Grand Rapids. Bedard said Red Wings players noticed the difference when Howard joined the team during its Stanley Cup playoff run last season.
“I had players come up to me and say, ‘Wow, this guy has really gotten a lot better,’” Bedard recalled. “When you hear it from other players, that’s the best comments you can get. He’s always had a good work ethic, but now he’s got the stamina, too, and the experience to go along wit h it.
“When I’m watching Jimmy, I want to see him play the style that will make him successful at the next level and that is being big outside the crease, rebound control, recovery, balance and agility,” Bedard said.
“One of the most important things is goalie sense, having the presence of mind and body to put rebounds in the right places. It also means setting up pucks for the defense so they can get the puck out quicker and more efficiently so they’re not going to get run into the boards.
“It’s all these little things that you want to see him do seamlessly and flawlessly, and those things will translate into him playing well at the next level. We’re very happy with Jimmy.”
Daniel Larsson, meanwhile, has been more than a pleasant surprise.
Larsson is playing his first season in North America after winning the Leif “Honken” Holmqvist Trophy as the top goaltender in the Swedish Elite League for 2007-08, in addition to being named the circuit’s Rookie of the Year.
“Obviously, he had great numbers in Sweden, but sometimes the play over there doesn’t translate into good results over here,” Bedard said. “But he came in and gained everyone’s confidence right off the bat.”
“You see Daniel in street clothes and he’s not the biggest guy, but neither is Chris Osgood or Manny Legace. At the same time, he’s got a lot of talent and he knows how to play.
“He reminds me of (Niklas) Backstrom in Minnesota. He keeps everything right in front of him and he doesn’t get himself out of position where he has to make what we call ‘one-and-done,’ where you make one big save and then you’re out of the picture, hoping that your defensemen will clear it out of the way.
“He catches so many pucks in his midsection and as goaltending has changed, you see guys doing that more and more. Being in a good position allows them to get it in their belly. I tell younger goalies, ‘I’ve never seen a puck, whether it’s (shot by) Brett Hull or Al MacInnis, go through the front and out the back. That’s a great save as long as you can control the rebound.”
Bedard said it is a pleasure to work with prospects that are not only good on the ice, but also good people away from the rink.
“You get attached to these guys on a personal level, not just as players,” Bedard said. “You find yourself cheering for them because you know all of the work they’ve put in and the stake they have in it. This is their career. This is what they want to do for a living and I’m just thrilled to be a part of it.
“It’s a wonderful thing.”
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