by Tyler King
One of the most prominent new faces on the Oil Barons staff this year hasn’t been visible behind the bench, but his impact has without question been felt on the ice.
Since the start of this year, new goaltending and video coach Mike Brodeur has been head coach Curtis Hunt’s “eye in the sky”; recording and categorizing game film from his perch high above the Casman Centre ice, or in several less-desirable spots in road rinks, as the Barons march on through the 2014-15 season.
A former NHL goaltender with the Ottawa Senators and American Hockey League champion with the Binghamton Senators, Brodeur brought existing AJHL experience with a league championship run as goalie for the Camrose Kodiaks in 2001, and a connection to Curtis Hunt, who coached Brodeur with the Moose Jaw Warriors in his final year of junior hockey.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Brodeur of the career transition to coaching. “It’s been a bit of a learning curve for me; trying not to be too high and low as a coach. You’ve got to keep it even, and work through things.”
Brodeur’s return to the AJHL was hardly planned. Few are aware of the perfect coincidence that led the MOB’s new coach to begin a life in Fort McMurray even before knowing he would become an integral part of its hockey team.
“We just packed up our bags, me and the wife, and decided to come up to Fort Mac, where she was born and raised, and about a week later I looked at the Oil Barons website, and Curtis Hunt happened to get the coaching job, and it just seemed to fit perfectly,” Brodeur recalled. “I gave him a call, and we worked things out, and he got me on board.”
The goaltending coach role has come naturally to Brodeur, who had already spent the better part of the last decade as a goaltending instructor at various summer camps even during his lengthy pro career. But the area of video, which has vastly grown in importance to every junior coaching staff, has been perhaps his most key contribution.
“Video has been a nice change for me, being able to read the game in a different way,” Brodeur noted. “As a goalie, you see the game from a different area, but seeing it from up top and being able to tell guys what they’re doing wrong, and what we need to fix and tweak, it’s been interesting.”
He has also taken great pleasure in being able to shepherd new number-one netminder Zach Fortin for the entire campaign; a welcome change from his short-term summer instruction.
“I really enjoyed [running summer camps], but I didn’t get to see the goalies grow or progress,” said Brodeur. “You’d see them for a week, and then they’re gone to their respective teams. This year, actually being able to work with guys for a full season and see them develop and improve, it’s been a lot of fun.”
After just a few months of working with Fortin, Brodeur already has high praise.
“He’s a great goalie,” Brodeur begins. “He battles hard; every day he works as hard as he possibly can on the ice, he hates getting scored on, and that’s the bite and grit you need from a goalie. You need that consistent battle every day.”
“At the beginning of the year he was a little bit busy in the net, so I’ve just tried to settle him down, control his stick a little bit more and his rebounds, setting his stance so he controls more pucks and he can see a lot of plays, and I think it’s worked for him and he’s gotten a lot better.”
As a first-year coach just now making the transition from professional player to junior mentor, Brodeur also appreciates the unique perspective he’s able to bring.
“It’s an easy approach for the guys to be able to talk to me. I’m pretty laid back, and it’s just fun to be able to relate my experiences to them, and tell them what I’ve gone through and been through to get where I went,” he said. “Sometimes they don’t realize the battle, the ups and downs of the game, and it’s about just keeping an even keel and selective amnesia, so you aren’t too hard on yourself. That’s why we play so many games – to work through those things.”
As Brodeur himself continues to work through adjustments to his new role, there’s no question his impact has already been felt; and may grow in significance as this team marches onward to the Western Canada Cup.
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