Being A Goaltender Coach Must Be A Tall Task
In this summer’s “Behind the Scenes” series, so far we have taken a closer look at head Joel Quenneville’s right-hand men. You can read more about assistant coach Mike Kitchen here, and assistant coach Kevin Dineen here. Today, I would like to talk about goaltending coach Jimmy Waite.
Unlike the head coach and his assistants, Jimmy has a much more specific role. He is charged with making sure Corey Crawford and Scott Darling are in a position to be the best they can be. Let’s face it: Being a goaltender is one of the hardest jobs not just in hockey, but in all of sports. So taking care of them is a tall task, indeed.
This upcoming season will be Waite’s third season with the Chicago Blackhawks. He was hired on July 7, 2014. He replaced Steve Weeks, who was fired after just one season. Before Weeks, Jimmy’s older brother, Stephane Waite, was the goaltending coach for the ’Hawks for a decade. He resigned to take the same position with the Montreal Canadiens.
Crawford and Jimmy got to know each other at hockey schools that Stephane directed in Sherbrooke, Quebec. So the two already had some familiarity with each other before working together with the ’Hawks.
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This is not Waite’s first stint with the Chicago Blackhawks. He was originally drafted by Chicago in the first round (eighth overall) in the 1987 NHL draft. Over the next number of years (1988-99), he played goalie, mostly in a back-up role, for the ’Hawks, as well as with the San Jose Sharks and Phoenix Coyotes.
He finished out his 22-year playing career with a nine-year stint for the Deutche Eishockey Liga in Germany (2001-10). Before coming to the ’Hawks as a coach, Waite spent three seasons (2011-14) as the goaltending coach with Chicoutimi Sagueneens of the QMJHL.
Since Waite started as goaltending coach of the ’Hawks, the results have been phenomenal. In 2015, he helped lead Crawford to winning the Jennings Trophy. This trophy is awarded to the goalkeeper(s) who have played a minimum of 25 games for a team with the fewest goals scored against them. Crawford and Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens both finished the regular season with a league-low 189 goals allowed. Coincidentally, Price’s goalie coach was Jimmy’s brother, Stephane.
According to the goaltenders Jimmy has coached, the results are all in the details. “Jimmy has been awesome,” Crawford said. “He’s a great guy to be around and he’s played the game at the NHL level. He knows what it’s about. We’ve grown a good chemistry of everything (from) working on video, technically, how we should play certain situations, practice drills and knowing when it’s time to work and when it’s time to get a little bit of rest. And with Darling in the mix, too, we have a really good thing going here as a goalie unit. … They felt Jimmy was someone who could help me bring my game to the next level.” (Chicago Tribune, 2/23/2016)
Darling has only good things to say about Waite as well. “He’s an unbelievable goalie mind. He’s been good for me, because I ask a lot of questions and I want to be prepared when I’m ready to go. He’s been huge for me, working on fine-tuning some parts of my game. I do feel like I’ve gotten better since the beginning of the season.” (Chicago Sun Times, 4/26/2015)
Former Blackhawks goalie Antti Raanta feels Waite is really good at relating to the players he coaches. “He’s the kind of guy that you can talk with almost about everything,” Raanta said. “He tries to fix those small things what we need to do. It’s not like he’s not coming to the morning skate and he’s saying, now we’ve got to change our glove, blocker and butterfly. It’s more like you just have to move your hand a little bit down. It’s so simple and he’s making it so easy for us so we don’t have to go there and burn ourselves out in the first five minutes, thinking about what we have to do. He’s been really, really fun to work with. You can talk with him. I like that.” (Chicago Sun Times, 4/26/2015)
Waite is relatively young to be an NHL coach; he’s 47 years old. He’s only six years removed from his playing career, and he appears to have lots of energy and enthusiasm. He still puts on his pads at practice to fill in and lead the players by example.
As a matter of fact, Waite recently played at the Blackhawks’ alumni game against the North Stars/Wild as part of the 2016 Stadium Series between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Minnesota Wild. He was probably the best goalie to take to the ice that day, and he made some outstanding saves.
It certainly does appear that Jimmy Waite has been integral in building the confidence and the games of Crawford and Darling over the past few years. “The important part of it is to know your goalie and really understand when you need to do stuff or when you need to step back,” Waite said. “Crow and I have a great relationship, and Scott too. I couldn’t be happier with the two goalies I have.” (Chicago Tribune, 2/23/2016)
Let’s hope this can all lead to a recipe for success in the future.