Veteran coach seen role evolve over 17 years
|Eli Wilson, centre, has made his mark in hockey coaching goalies.|
Eli Wilson remembers the days when being a goalie coach in hockey was a rarity, and he was part of that rarity.
When Wilson specifically began teaching puck stoppers 17 years ago, the notion of having one coach in hockey working just with netminders was still a relatively new one. Now, the 40-year-old, who has worked with 30 goalies who went on the play in the NHL including Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens, is surrounded by lots of company.
“There are more goalie coaches than coaches,” said Wilson. “It is just non-stop.
“I think when I joined the (WHL’s Medicine Hat) Tigers in 04, there were at the time some teams who didn’t have goalie coaches then. Some of the teams that did, it would be a guy that was maybe around once in a while type of thing. With (then Tigers head coach and general manager) Willie (Desjardins) there, he wanted me there once a week.
|A young netminder mades a glove stop at Eli Wilson’s goalie camp.|
“I would come down on the weekends, watch the games and then spend Monday and Tuesday there. I was around a lot with those teams.”
Wilson was involved with the Tigers through four seasons from 2004 to 2007, and he played an integral role in developing the team’s goalies. Thanks to Wilson’s work, the Tigers won WHL championships in 2004 and 2007 and earned berths in the Memorial Cup tournament in both of those years. Star netminders Kevin Nastiuk and Matt Keetley were the WHL playoff MVPs in those runs in 2004 and 2007 respectively.
Besides working for the Tigers, Wilson also spent time working with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants and the NHL’s Ottawa Senators and the Anaheim Ducks’s AHL affiliate the Syracuse Crunch. With the Senators, Wilson played a big role in helping Ray Emery backstop that franchise to a Stanley Cup finals berth in 2007. He recently signed on to work with the WHL’s Tri-City Americans, who happen to be Price’s former major junior team.
|A young netminder works on positioning at Eli Wilson’s goalie camp.|
During his career, Wilson has criss-crossed Canada and ventured into the United States running goalie schools. He established his Eli Wilson Goaltending company in 2010 and has operated that school year round outside of stints where he has worked with WHL and professional teams.
Now that there are numerous goalie coaches out there, Wilson said teaching netminders has evolved.
“You go to a Western League level game or you go to a junior A game, everyone can move,” said Wilson, who wrapped up a week long goalie camp at the Jemini Arena in Saskatoon on Friday. “Everyone looks like they are a goalie, but some guys don’t have a feel or a read for the game and that is the tactical part of it that really makes a difference.
“Ten years ago, some guys were further advanced technically, and it made all the difference in the world. Now, that is not good enough.”
|A young netminder makes a blocker stop at Eli Wilson’s goalie camp.|
Wilson said mental toughness is the other factor that separates good goalies from great ones. He brings former WHL netminder Pete Fry, who played for the Portland Winterhawks, Spokane Chiefs and Victoria Cougars in the 1980s, to work with goalies on the mental aspect of the game.
To show how much of a difference mental toughness can play in sports, Wilson has recently been telling his netminders to look at the NFL’s New England Patriots in the last Super Bowl. Despite the fact the Patriots fell behind 28-3 to the Atlanta Falcons, Wilson said you could tell by body language that Patriots all-world quarterback Tom Brady and mastermind head coach Bill Belichick never lost confidence.
The Patriots rallied to beat the Falcons 34-28 in overtime.
|Eli Wilson, second from right, address a group of goalies at his camp.|
“You saw what Tom Brady did this year,” said Wilson. “That was all mental, all of it. That is what you need.
“Pete (Fry) talks about a lot of that stuff. That is the biggest thing. It blankets the entire position.”
Wilson works with goalies at various ages and various levels of hockey. When it comes to teaching goalies, Wilson uses the same approach with relative newcomers to the position all the way to NHL veterans.
“I’ll have an eight-year-old kid and I wouldn’t do anything differently or get him to try and play any differently than I would the best goalie in the world,” said Wilson. “I would take the same approach, the same structure, the same game plan, the same movement patterns, the same save techniques, the same tactical (and) the same technical.
|A young netminder makes a stick stop at Eli Wilson’s goalie camp.|
“It doesn’t matter really what age, what size (or) size in comparison to the level of play.”
Wilson works on four principles with netminders. They include the knowledge of positioning, technique and the ability to get into position on time, save technique and rebound control and post-save response.
On the overall technical side, Wilson said there was one key.
“It is about making the save the easiest part of your game,” said Wilson. “You make it as simple as possible to eliminate margin for error to give you your greatest chance of success.”
He is frequently assisted at his camps by his veteran students.
During the camp in Saskatoon, Wilson was helped out by Emery, Rylan Toth, who just wrapped up his WHL career after playing with the Red Deer Rebels and Seattle Thunderbirds, and Rylan Pareateau, who just wrapped up his WHL career with the Prince Albert Raiders and Americans.
At the NHL Entry Draft in June in Chicago, Ill., Wilson was present to see two of his students hear their names called by NHL teams.
|Eli Wilson barks instructions at his goalie camp.|
Stuart Skinner, who plays for the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes, was selected in the third round and 78th overall by the Edmonton Oilers. Dylan Ferguson, who plays for the Kamloops Blazers, was selected in the seventh round and 194th overall by the Dallas Stars before his NHL rights were subsequently traded to the Las Vegas Gold Knights.
“You get so many guys that are just so thankful for the time that they’ve spent with you,” said Wilson. “It is a constant reward.
“When you work with a lot of goaltenders, you get to see a lot of success.”
Besides the technical, tactical and mental parts of the game, Wilson also stresses a couple of intangibles to his goalies. One is to enjoy the time you have with your teammates and coaches.
|Former NHL netminder Ray Emery, right, gives instructions.|
“Enjoy the people that you get a chance to work with and meet,” said Wilson. “I think that is a huge part of the game.
“My biggest thing is coming to the rink every single day and I get to do exactly what I want, and I just feed off that every day all day. I’ve been able to do that for 17 years.
“It is constantly rewarding to go on an ice time and watch a group of goalies be way better in an hour and a half than they were in an hour and a half earlier. That is a huge part.”
The other intangible Wilson stresses is to enjoy the journey of reaching a set end goal. Even when teams aren’t as successful as they want to be in the wins department, Wilson said you have to find the positives, and you can still grow and have a good experience.
|Eli Wilson, centre, said it is key to enjoy the people you meet in hockey.|
Wilson said the joy of accomplishing a goal is fleeting, but the memories a goalie builds on the journey to accomplishing a goal is the thing that last.
“You win the Olympics, you just won and then it is over,” said Wilson. “It is the whole process beforehand that is the point that should be enjoyed.
“Reminiscing about winning something, it fades and goes away. Enjoying the process as you get there and you do the whole thing, then you’ve won weather you win or lose at the end anyways, because you’ve followed the process and you’ve enjoyed the process.
“Just because you are not winning every night and there are tough parts about it, you have to find positives. You have to enjoy it and enjoy the people.”
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