Kukla's Korner

23 Intently Staring Goalies

Sean Burke—Coaching from Experience

I have in my possession a close-up photo I took of Sean Burke in a Hartford Whalers mask. Nope, he didn’t suddenly spring up from the seafoam—which would be a neat trick in Arizona—and become the hottest goalie coach in the NHL.

If someone has asked me back then if I thought Sean Burke was going to become a premier goalie coach, I wouldn’t have considered it. Burke was better than a good goalie, but he also had a rep for having a bit of a temper on-ice. He’s hit the league with a splash, fresh from the Canadian National Team, and looked like the goalie of the future for the New Jersey Devils.

Then there was the contract dispute. The holdout. The trade to the Whalers, who were, well, the Whalers. The Devils drafted a kid named Brodeur, and we all know where that went. Burke played with the Whalers, the Canucks, the Flyers, the Panthers, ...and you get the story…

A better than good golaie, but cranky, stubborn, difficult.

Not the one that would have been picked for a second career as a goalie coach, especially one with the moniker “The Goalie Whisperer”. But maybe it’s someone who’s been in the same place, who’s had to deal with his own weaknesses, who’s had to prove his worth, and constantly adapt who can coach goalies to their peak performance.

It’s an interesting thought, and there’s more than one team in the NHL who’d like to talk to Sean Burke about coaching their goalies.

From Tony Gallagher at the Vancouver Province:

It’s getting pretty clear Sean Burke is emerging as perhaps the best goalie coach in the National Hockey League. At the very least, he’s right near the top of the list.

His success working with Phoenix Coyotes starter Mike Smith has made everyone take notice this season, but when you look at what Ilya Bryzgalov was able to achieve in the desert and then see what happened to the poor fellow when he left and ventured into Philadelphia, you get a pretty good appreciation for what Burke has been able to accomplish with his players.

Both he and coach Dave Tippett originally targeted Smith when they learned Bryzgalov was leaving, Burke saying right from the outset that he thought the fellow could be among the top-five goalies in the league in their first meeting after they picked him up.

“I came into it with a totally open mind and everything I looked at was positive,” Burke said of Smith, who virtually got Phoenix into the playoffs by himself and then continued his stellar play in a first-round victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. “I didn’t look at what he needed to change, I looked at a guy with an incredible amount of athletic ability, a guy with good work ethic, experience, a guy who handles the puck better than anyone. I didn’t dwell on any of the negatives.

“I saw a guy who I thought could be strong mentally, and now, when you look at what he’s done, you have to say he’s one of the strongest mentally around. Here’s a guy who walked into Chicago in front of 21,000 fans after the (Andrew) Shaw incident (whereby the Hawks forward hit Smith behind the net and was suspended) and played like he did, I mean we won three games in Chicago. I think he showed something there.”


And from Pierre Le Brun, writing for ESPN:

The “Goalie Whisperer,” aka Sean Burke, aka the hottest commodity in goalie coaching circles in the NHL these days, just happens to be a UFA this summer.

Indeed, Burke’s contract with the Phoenix Coyotes as goalie coach and director of player development expires in the offseason. Burke told ESPN.com that he loves it in Phoenix, so there’s certainly no threat of him jumping to another NHL team. But a decision he is weighing is whether he should spend more time in Portland, Ore., where his son Brendan Burke is a netminder for the WHL’s Winterhawks. Next season is Brendan’s NHL draft year.


Filed in: | 23 Intently Staring Goalies | Permalink
  Tags: goalie, nhl, phoenix+coyotes, sean+burke


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About 23 Intently Staring Goalies

23 Intently Staring Goalies comes from the 23 close-up photos of goalies that used to line the walls of my office.

On the good side, it kept down interruptions, but it also made sure I had to leave my trash outside my door if I wanted it picked up.

I've been watching and analyzing goaltenders for going on 40 years. Some of that was spent drawing goalies on my grade 8 math homework. Then it was taking my card decks and printouts to Indianapolis Racer games. Luckily, the Internet took off, and by 1991 I was half of the duo that would ultimately become the Plaidworks hockey mailing lists. I wrote "Handicapping the Goalies' for the San Jose Sharks mailing list, and took a lot of photos of goalies in action. I have around 5000 slides of mostly goaltenders in action from 1989 through 2001 from the WHL, IHL and NHL. Since I've gone digital, I've added about 10,000 more images to the library. During summers and when the league went dark, I was reading through multiple SF By area news papers, tracking ice hockey from the 1917 recreational leagues up through the California Seals.

We'll be talking about goalies and goaltending. We'll talk about whats going on now, who's in the system, and when the doldrums hit, I'll haul something out of the big bag of history, or something from the photo archives. We'll talk about who's hot and why, and who's not and what they can do to get back on track. We'll take a look at the trends in scouting goalies, and why a style may work for one team but not another. I'll battle with my dictation software to get it to understand Bryzgalov and Bobrovsky.

It should be interesting--hope you want to come along for the ride!