Why goalie coaches Allaire, Korn deserve Hall of Fame acclaim

The Dominator

The Dominator

Each week, Justin Bourne’s column will cover three different topics in varying depths. Think of it as a shit three-course meal with an appetiser, main course, and dessert… of shit

Appetiser: If a few people had huge influence on what hockey looks like today, they deserve recognition in the Hall of Fame. Francois Allaire and Mitch Korn meet that criteria

On the day the Hockey Hall of Fame was announcing its class of 2020, I came across a tweet I haven’t been able to shake. I retweeted it at the time, I mentioned it on Hockey Central later that day, and I’ve concluded that it isn’t just some throwaway point that deserves a fleeting moment of internet love. There’s real merit to the point that warrants greater discussion.

That tweet from Mike McKenna:

If you’ve been around a pro hockey arena over the past two decades or followed the sport with even a passing interest, you’re familiar with McKenna. He played 14 seasons of professional hockey, tending goal for over 20 organisations between the NHL, AHL and briefly the ECHL. He spent time with eight NHL teams, most recently during the 2018-19 season when he saw time with the Ottawa Senators and Philadelphia Flyers. He spent this season as a TV analyst for the Vegas Golden Knights.

You can imagine, with a resume that broad, that the guy would’ve come across his share of goaltending styles, theories, and of course, goalie coaches. You’d be hard-pressed to find many players more qualified to weigh in on the effect coaches can have on players, and in turn, the effect they’d have on the game as a whole.

Just think about how the goaltending position has changed since the Patrick Roy/Martin Brodeur days. Goalies got big, they started going down a lot, they started blocking an awful lot of net, and pucks all but stopped finding their way through them. That changed how players had to shoot (mostly harder and with more accuracy), which changed how they had to play. Finding time to get off a quality shot became the goal scorer’s priority, which changed how they had to save ice and find soft spots and generally operate within the confines of the 200-by-85-foot sheet. Good goalies changed the flow of the game.

Mike and I sent a few texts back and forth on the topic, and I wanted to bring these points out to greater light. The overarching point is summarised pretty simply: the best of the best goalie coaches changed the way goaltending looked league-wide, which changed hockey. That’s makes them worthy of note alongside the most influential names from hockey history. But I’ll let McKenna tell you more about that.

Main: McKenna on the Children of the Korn, and the disciples of Allaire

Justin Bourne: What inspired the tweet about Korn/Allaire? Is this something you’ve thought for a while, or did it just come to you?

Mike McKenna: It’s a topic that’s been percolating for years in the goalie community, something that we talk about fairly often. With the Hockey Hall of Fame voting taking place, it seemed like an appropriate time to round up the goalie union and try to get some momentum for our coaching pioneers. They are builders of the game in every sense.

JB: Which goalie coaches did you work with? How much effect can a goalie coach have on a goalie?

MM: With my suitcase career, it’s more of who didn’t I work with! Where do we start? I’m probably forgetting someone, but here’s a list:

Lindsay Middlebrook
Bill Howard
Mitch Korn
Chris Economou
Rick Wamsley
Dave Rook
Francois Allaire
Jean-Ian Filiatrault
Cap Raeder
Jacques Caron
Chris Terreri
Corey Hirsch
Ty Conklin
Ian Clarke
Manny Legace
Sean Burke
Alfie Michaud
Rob Tallas
Pierre Groulx
Leo Luongo
David Alexander
Jeff Reese
Jim Bedard
Kory Cooper
Kim Dillabaugh
Brady Robinson

Goalie coaches play a massive role in the development of goaltenders. Skill is easy to find these days, but cultivating NHL goaltenders? That’s the hard part. Relationships and communication are key. When a goaltender is on the same wavelength as their coach — both professionally and personally — that’s when the magic happens. It’s a unique relationship; very different than the normal player/coach dynamic. We look to goalie coaches to provide technical instruction, mentor us, and most of all be in our corner when things go wrong. A goalie voice is essential to the balance of the Coach’s room.

Francois Allaire is forever tied to Patrick Roy, just like Mitch Korn is with Dominik Hasek. Were they fortunate to work with supremely talented goaltenders? Absolutely. But the goalie community knows that those two goalies may have never achieved legendary status without the help of Allaire and Korn. They took their game to the next level.

JB: How do you believe Allaire/Korn have impacted the game, and with that, why do you believe those things should qualify them for the Hockey Hall of Fame?

MM: It’s hard to describe how massive their influence has been. While Allaire wasn’t the first NHL goalie coach, his success opened the door for others. He was instrumental in fine-tuning the butterfly technique and bringing it to the masses. He ran goalie camps out of Quebec and Switzerland that were attended by countless NHL goaltenders: it’s actually hard to find a goaltender from Quebec who wasn’t coached by Francois at some point.

While his NHL success is forever tied to the Stanley Cups won by Roy and Giguere, he was also a mentor to goalies like Luongo, Crawford, Biron, Hiller, Bryzgalov, Gerber, Aebischer, Reimer and many more. His scientific approach to the position was revolutionary at the time: Frankie took data into account and tried to find efficiency. Movements had to be precise and structure was paramount. He wouldn’t settle for anything less and he got results.

Mitch Korn’s influence is similar in scope. His goalie camps have spawned an informal goalie club known as “Children of the Korn” and provided the starting point for countless pro and college careers. Beyond the youth aspect, Korn will always be tied to the NHL success of Hasek, Rinne, and Holtby, but there are dozens more. Under his guidance, the Sabres, Predators, and Capitals were goaltending factories churning out starting goalies in-house, and developing others into tangible assets. For a long time Mitch was known as “the prop guy” for using white pucks, screen boards, deflection boards, etc., to challenge his goaltenders. Something of a mad genius. But I think the turning point for Mitch — at least in terms of public recognition — was when the Capitals won the Stanley Cup. Quite a few of us had tears in our eyes watching him achieve the ultimate goal. Much like Allaire, Korn was early to the game joining the Sabres in the ‘90s and paving the way for future full-time goalie coaches.

Without question these two deserve consideration in the Builder category of the Hockey Hall of Fame. If we’re talking about contributions to the game of hockey in general, these guys are on Goalie Coach Mount Rushmore. They’ve influenced thousands of athletes in pro and amateur hockey. And if winning a Stanley Cup seems to be near-requisite for entry into the Hall, both have it on the resume. Goal tending is often cited as the most important position, yet for years it was neglected when it came to coaching. Allaire and Korn changed that. They got results and validated the need for every team to have a goalie coach. It’s time for these pioneers to be recognized by the Hall of Fame.

Dessert: Remembering the greats of the game … properly

One of the hardest things to do around this time of year as a hockey analyst is to talk about who should get into the Hall of Fame, because by saying who should get in, you’re also saying who shouldn’t. And it’s never fun to dig your feet in and argue against someone whose career was so incredible they’re worthy of being entered into that conversation.

So, one thing I do believe to be important is that when we talk about these athletes and builders alike, we represent how they played and who they were fairly. Even if sometimes that means steering an over-correction back to the centre. With all that said, it’s not that I want to take anything away from the great Marian Hossa here, let’s just remember him fairly.

Take it away, DGB:

I think those are great points. HHoF worthy, absolutely. He was a force and those years from 2007-2010 were especially dominant. He became a great defender over the years. But he’s in the Hall because he was an offensive star first.