Rebels working to build a wall
Identifying and then developing netminders is the new order of the day for the Red Deer Rebels — and major junior hockey teams across the country and northwest United States.
Gone are the days when teams could scoop a stopper in the Canadian Hockey League import draft. Hockey Canada, in conjunction with the CHL, put a halt to that this year, essentially ruling that major junior clubs were developing European and Russian goalies who were in turn beating Canada in international competitions.
The ban on import goalies will force CHL clubs to produce more top-notch homegrown netminders.
“There’s two ways of doing it — you either have to draft them or find them and list them,” said Rebels general manager/head coach Brent Sutter. “No one trades good, young, proven goalies, so you have to do it from within.”
To that end, Sutter hired Taylor Dakers during the off-season. Dakers has replaced Brett Belecki as the club’s goaltender coach and has taken on the added role of scout.
“Sometimes a goalie coach can spend too much time with and pay too much attention to the No. 1 guy, and not enough attention to the backup and the prospects in your system,” said Sutter.
“That was something I wanted to make firm with Taylor, that whoever was going to come in to be our goalie consultant/coach, his role would be to work with and make all of our goalies in the system better.
“When Taylor is here he’s going to spend as much time with our backup goaltender as he is with Patty (starter Bartosak). We also know that our No. 1 guy is No. 1 for a reason, but we can’t be neglectful of the other goalie (Taz Burman) on the team or others in the system.”
Dakers was hired when Belecki — a Calgary firefighter with a young family — confirmed that he would not be able to travel to Red Deer as often as Sutter had hoped.
He will work with Bartosak and Burman 10 to 12 times per month this season. Dakers is involved with World Pro Goaltending, a teaching program for minor hockey, junior A, major junior and professional netminders that operates out of a privately-owned rink in Calgary.
“When I’m in Red Deer I’ll try to be on the ice as much as I can, but the main thing will be maintaining contact with the goalies and making sure that there’s a lot of discussion regarding their game, where the team is at and how their life is here,” said Dakers.
“We’ll have a younger goalie in addition to Patty and we’ll want to make sure we’re getting the most out of him. With Patty being 20, he’ll be expected to take most of the load, and with Burman being a younger player he has to learn as much as he can to get as good as he can without playing for long stretches.
“Mentally, there’s a lot of development on and off the ice. Physically, there’s a lot of development in practice. He (Burman) will have to approach each practice as if it’s a game and get the most out of it.”
Dakers was on the job during the summer, accompanying Bartosak to Los Angeles to work with the Kings goaltending coaches. Los Angeles selected the Czech netminder — the best in the entire Canadian Hockey League last season — in June’s NHL entry draft.
“The coaches there gave me an outline of where they want to see Patty get to this season,” said Dakers. “He’s a great WHL goalie, which is obvious just by the accolades he got last season, but there’s always a big jump up to the pro level.
“If we can get a head start on that and kind of get him prepared for next year, it will serve to help us here.”
Dakers, a 27-year-old Langley, B.C., native, blocked pucks for the Kootenay Ice for four seasons, then turned pro in 2007 with the San Jose Sharks, who selected him in the fifth round of the 2005 NHL entry draft.
He appeared in a total of 58 games over two years in the AHL and ECHL before retiring due to a bad hip.
“I had to undergo hip surgeries because I couldn’t move in the net anymore. I had problems with my hip since I was 15 and had to deal with those issues my whole playing career,” said Dakers, who was the Everett Silvertips goaltending coach for two years prior to joining the Rebels.
With Bartosak graduating after this season, Burman will almost certainly be the main man in the Rebels crease next year. Dakers is confident the Vancouver native has the goods necessary to succeed in the WHL.
“There’s a lot to be said about what he does technically,” said Dakers. “He can stop the puck. He’s mentally composed and gives the team a real presence back there, plus he’s a good kid in the dressing room. He’s what you want out of a young kid. He’s seems very willing to learn.”
Dakers will hit the road periodically to work with Rebels midget AAA prospects in Moose Jaw (Grant Naherniak, Colby Entz) and North Battleford (Rylan Toth), and will assist the Rebels scouting staff in identify promising goaltenders for the 2014 WHL bantam draft.
“I haven’t had a reason to watch a lot of bantam hockey until now. I’ll be able to attend a lot of games in Calgary and I’ll also get to tournaments in St. Albert and Medicine Hat,” said Dakers.
Placing his goaltender coach into a scouting role is a no-brainer, Sutter suggested.
“I’ve learned over the years that your goalie coach has a tremendous feel not only for the goalies on the team, but also in the system, and he has to help the scouts in seeing the difference between a good goalie and an average goalie,” said Sutter. “You can have 10 scouts talking about a goalie prospect but you’ll listen more to the opinion of someone who has played the position.”
While he’s had extensive coaching experience with the Rebels and in the NHL, Sutter realizes he doesn’t possess the same knowledge of goaltenders as does Dakers.
“It’s always nice to have a coach who has played that position, the most important position on your team,” said the Rebels boss. “One thing I learned at the NHL level is you lean heavily on your goaltending coach more than any other person in the system, including your scouts. More than anyone else, he knows these guys, he knows their makeup.
“He sees tangible things in their game that other coaches might not see. As a coach and GM, your want your goalies to just stop the puck and don’t give up easy goals. But to go out there and work with a goalie’s skill set and the technical package that he has, you can’t do it because you’ve never worked with goalies through your life.”
While Sutter knows Dakers is a valuable addition to his coaching staff, the newcomer is equally as grateful to be on board.
“With the guys here, Brent, Steve (assistant O’Rourke) and Jeff (associate coach Truitt), I’m learning things every day,” said Dakers. “I’m like a 16-year-old goalie in the Dub. There’s always something to learn.”