Coaches and Influencers
Warren Strelow – San Jose Sharks 2000-2003
I believe coaching is teaching at the most fundamental level. If a coach can have the ability get through to a student, and still be open to learning himself as a coach, then great things can be accomplished. Throughout my years of playing professional hockey, I have had a number of really great experiences and coaches, but there is one coach that really stands out for me: the great Warren Strelow.
I had the extreme pleasure of being coached by Warren Strelow shortly after I was drafted out of Providence College at the end of my sophomore season. I was Second Team All American and went to the NCAA tournament that year. Still not expecting to be drafted at all, you could imagine my surprise and excitement being awoken from my sleep on the couch in Saskatchewan to be told I was taken by the San Jose Sharks in the 5th round.
Our first meeting was when I stepped off the plane in the Twin cities. Warren picked me up to take me to White Bear Lake for my first Pro Goalie Camp. This was a two-week intensive training camp for all San Jose goalies that took place before the main training camp. Warren didn’t have much to say.
He was calm, friendly, and very down to earth. He reminded me of what my Grandpa would be like. Warren was also an interesting guy, with a different view of how goalies should be coached. At the time San Jose had 8 goalies under contract, including Steve Shields, Evgenie Nabokov, Mikka Kiprusoff, Vesa Toskala, Johan Helberg, Terry Friesen, Shamus Kotyk, and myself. Thomas Greiss and Dimitri Patzold were later added to the mix while I was still there. I was intimidated and also a bit naive thinking I would crack the San Jose roster that first year if “I could just show them I could play.” Once that bubble burst, I decided to get as much as I could out of the camps that were filled with such great goalies, and the best goalie coach.
There are two things I really remember Warren saying out of the obvious vast book of knowledge that he imparted:
“It’s my goal to have you all play in the NHL. You can’t all play for San Jose, but we want you all to play in the NHL.”The other being:“I want to make you the best goalie you can be, within your style.”
This second one is something that I have adopted and use in my coaching today.
Warren had a great way of telling you what you needed to hear. Not just what he thought, but what he thought would help you better understand. All but one goalie in that list played in the NHL.
Wayne Thomas – San Jose Sharks 2000-2003
Just as incredible as Warren, behind the scenes in San Jose was Wayne Thomas. Long-time friend and Assistant GM of the San Jose Sharks, Wayne was (and still is) a goaltending master in his own right. Warren and Wayne often worked on the goalies together, sharing ideas and basically splitting the duties. Wayne was another unbelievable influence in my life. He showed me the ability to balance true friendship and a management relationship, which is unheard of in today’s game. For me, he was the unsung hero of the San Jose Sharks goaltending system which was second-to-none at the time.
Bob Mason – Minnesota Wild 2004-2007
I didn’t get to spend a whole lot of time with Bob as my call-ups to the NHL with Minnesota were not as frequent. Still, Bob always had a great set of drills and a funny disposition that I really enjoyed. Coming to camp with him I knew what I was getting: a fair shot to be a part of the organization. His time was mostly dedicated to the NHL team, but when I worked with Bob it was always simple yet productive. I went on to the AHL Allstar team my first year in the organization, finished first in the league statistics, and won the lowest combined GAA Award called the Harry Haps Holmes Award.
Stephan Lunner – CSKA MOSCOW 2007-2008
I share this goalie coaching experience with Steve. Steve and I both worked with “Steph” in Moscow. As you can imaging, playing in Moscow comes with quite the lifestyle change. As a goalie, being on top of the mental side of your life is so important. Steph really helped me see this. We enjoyed several coffees in the morning together, and several dinners sharing our different life experiences in Moscow (in order to vent basically). It really helped. On the technical side, working with Steph I started to actually see the impact that the quality of shots and situations had on my game. I really started to think outside the box, stop just looking at myself, and see the game as a whole. That came from Steph.
Bob Essensa - Boston Bruins - 2009-2010
Working with Bob was a great pleasure. He was one of the goalie greats of the past and I can not forget my old hockey cards of him playing with the Winnipeg Jets. This was also my last season in North America. Even though the results of how I played weren’t exactly how I wanted, I had a number of great experiences being with the Bruins. I was able to make friends with two goalie greats: Tim Thomas, and Tuuka Rask. Obviously Bob had to be doing something right winning the Stanley Cup that year. Bob had a simple and traditional coaching style, and a never ending repertoire of funny one-liners to ease any tension.
Dave Rook – HCAP Swiss National League A 2010-2011
Another very good coach, Dave was formerly the goalie coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets, and current NHL goalie Steve Mason. He really saw that I was experienced at this point. He brought an NHL style of coaching that I liked, and also allowed me to really add my own insight and input. I was able to voice any questions or changes that I wanted to make in order self- improve. As I was growing as a player, my knowledge and confidence were increasing, and I really felt like I shifted this season into making my own way. Dave helped transition me into this.
Pauli Jaks – HCAP Swiss National League A 2012-2014
Pauli was the first Swiss goalie to ever play an NHL game. Since Pauli paved the way, the Swiss goalie market has shot up, producing players like Jonas Hiller, Thobias Stephen, and newcomer Reto Berra. Pauli and I had a great relationship. He really allowed me to control my ice. He knew what was good for me to maintain my game, and keep myself at the top the Swiss National League. We became good friends and I stay in touch with Pauli. He has been and still is the goalie coach for the Swiss Junior National Team.
Steve Valiquette 2012- Present
I had known of Steve for many years before 2012. We played several games against each other in the AHL. However, it wasn’t until a few years ago that we really started to connect. What are the chances that two Canadian, former NHL goalies end up living in the same town in Connecticut? The script goes on and on, and the endless connections we had to each other could not be ignored. And then we started talking shop! This is where the really interesting part of our journey began. Steve began to open my eyes to another way of looking at the game, as well as my life as a person. I, of coarse, had my own experience to add and I feel like we really have an incredible partnership and have created an unmatched learning environment for goaltenders. We feed off of each other, work together, and complement each other’s coaching style. Together we bring something unique to the table and are able to unite that in the common goal. We can not predict what is going to happen next, but I am very excited to be working together with Steve.
Season/ Team/ League
1997-98 Nipiwan Hawks SJHL
1998-2003 Providence College Friars Hockey East NCAA
2003-2006 San Jose Sharks NHL
Fresno Falcons ECHL
Cleveland Barons AHL
Worcester Sharks AHL
Hershey Bears AHL
Wilkes Barre Scranton Penguins AHL
- all while under contract with San Jose - until traded to Pittsburg
2007-2009 Minnesota Wild NHL
Houston Aeros AHL
2009-2010 CSKA Moscow- KHL
2010-2011 Boston Bruins NHL
Providence Bruins AHL
2011-2014 HCAP Ambri Piotta Swiss NLA
2014-2015 SCB Bern Swiss NLA