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New Leafs goalie coach Steve Briere part of organizational shift

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The Leafs have hired a newly goalie coach, and his approach is changing with the game. Here's my chat with Steve Briere, Craig Buntin of Sportlogiq, and a strength and conditioning coach about the changing game of hockey and its goaltenders.

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto's hiring of Steve Briere, the Leafs new goalie coach, represents an ongoing progressive shift within the organization, and the hockey world at large.

A longtime goalie coach through his own business, with stints in the USHL, NAHL, NCAA and AHL, Briere joins the Leafs without the notoriety the organization is accustomed to hiring as its goalie coaches, including Rick St. Croix and Francois Allaire -- two Stanley Cup winning goalie coaches.

But Briere isn't concerned with the past. Instead, he's looking ahead.

"I'd definitely consider myself a progressive goalie coach," Briere said in a phone interview on Wednesday. "There's always people trying to either copy your business or come up with something better to outdo your business so goalie coaching is very similar, you're always trying to be on the cutting edge."

Now, more than ever, there's opportunity to learn and advance the craft, according to Briere.

"Because there’s so many different goaltenders from so many different countries, I’ve coached goaltenders from every single country in the world now, people learn different things and understanding things different ways," he said.

"Part of being innovative isn’t always because you need to reinvent goaltending, I think the fundamentals are the base for everything, but the new innovations are just ways of being able to allow the goaltenders to understand those fundamentals in a different way."

For goaltenders, the innovations have come slower than for players.

Companies making breakthroughs into computer vision research like Sportlogiq, a Montreal-based firm with backing from venture capitalists such as Mark Cuban, still aren't quite there with goalies.

The visualization technology, which tracks players' feet, heads and hands to identify activity and movement across the ice, hasn't yet been expanded to include goalies according to CEO and Co-Founder Craig Buntin.

And while there are plans to expand to include goalies in the near future, there are still conclusions that can be drawn from this new technology.

"Because we’re tracking where the players are and where the puck is, we’re getting things like rebound location and where shots are successful and where they’re not and being able to quickly understand where the goalies’ strengths and weaknesses are," Buntin, a former Olympic figure skater who retired in 2010 to acquire an MBA from McGill University, said.

For Briere, tailoring a program specifically to each athlete is essential to their understanding of new ideas.

"My number one philosophy is that it’s not the same for every goalie," Briere said. "The same way that if you and I were talking about a math problem, we’d probably go about it two totally different ways, as long as we both come up with the same answer, and that’s the right answer, then you get it right."

"People learn differently and they understand differently so you can’t take the same approach with everybody, you have to change it to make each guy understand the way that they understand," he added.

The physical makeup of a goalie also changes Briere's approach, he said.

"People have different sizes, different strengths, different weaknesses and my job is to find out what all those are."

Here, Briere's approach is in line with those from the strength and conditioning field.

"Something I feel can't be said enough is that no two athletes are exactly alike," said one strength and conditioning coach. "Physically, there are different injury histories, movement deficiencies, weaknesses, imbalances, and a number other physical and psychological factors to consider before building a program for any athlete."

"There is no one-size-fits-all template for training goaltenders, just like there isn't one for players. What works or is needed for one goaltender (or player) may not be needed or work for another," said the strength and condition coach, who works with professional and elite amateur hockey players. "Specificity is the name of the game."

Moving forward, Briere is looking forward to working with the Leafs staff. The chance to work with head coach Mike Babcock was by far the biggest draw to Toronto, he said.

"The reality is anytime you get a chance to work for a coach like Mike Babcock, I mean I don't know how you could ever go wrong, he’s a proven successful coach and he’s a great person," Briere said. "And he’s always learning as well and wanting to learn so he appreciates innovation."

The newly minted NHL goalie coach is also excited to work with James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier, two people he believes have proven they can be top-goalies.

Introduced to the organization through amateur scout Garth Malarchuk after discussions about some of the Leafs prospects Briere had worked with, the lack of familiarity with the team's staff is part of what makes the new position so exciting, he said.

"What an honour," Briere said of the new role. "The combination of Shanahan, Hunter, Dubas, Babcock, Lamoriello, you couldn’t ask for a better cast to get to learn from and work hard for."

Working in the NHL as a goalie coach for the first time, Briere is aware he's in for a totally different experience.

"What I need to adjust to is that we travel and play so many games, even in the American Hockey League when I worked in the AHL, they only play on weekends really," he said.

Still, he's confident his approach won't have to change, and that he can keep pushing forward in the same way he always has: Progressively.