Eric Raymond Helps Increase Ranger Organization’s Net GainJan 29, 2018
By Bob Crawford
For Eric Raymond, who is in his second season as the Wolf Pack’s goaltending coach, the opportunity to work with the Wolf Pack netminders is an extension of a long-standing friendship and partnership.
Raymond has been a disciple of Rangers goaltending coach Benoit Allaire since Raymond was in his teens.
“Ben and I have been working with each other, and have known each other, for a long time,” Raymond said in a recent conversation. “He was actually my coach in Junior, and early on I started to work with him in a hockey school when I was 18 years old. We did many years, and Ben has always been a mentor for me. We make sure we work as a team, that we use the same language. We really share everything about the goalies, to make sure that there’s only one message and they’re going in one direction.”
Raymond played under Allaire’s tutelage with both the Laval Titan and Verdun College-Francais in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and remains grateful for the guidance he received.
“I was lucky to have Ben back in Junior, because at that time there were not a lot of goalie coaches, and I felt like I had the best one,” Raymond said with a smile. “I was really privileged to have him and to learn from him, and also for the off-ice, how he was always finding the way to make you feel good. His approach with the goalies, and obviously the technical part, I started a long time ago to learn with him, and he did help me a lot during my Junior career and the years I was with him.”
Following a 16–year pro playing career that wrapped up in 2007-08, Raymond followed Allaire’s path into coaching. He has enjoyed being able to spread his mentor’s philosophy, and he characterizes the heart of the approach as something of a “less is more” mindset.
“We try to be precise, and we try to focus on the important things, without overloading the goalie’s head,” Raymond said. “A lot of times you pick something, and there’s so many things connected to that, and we try not to go over every little thing that’s connected. We try to go straight to the point, so there’s less information and there’s less in the goalie’s head. We believe in what we do, and we try to get them to apply it as much as possible, without over-coaching them.”
Goaltending is a pursuit that has become extremely technical in recent years, but for Raymond, what’s in the goaltender’s brain is just as important, if not more important, than what he is trying to get his body to do.
“That’s a really important part, the mental part of the game, the way you approach the game,” he said. “So we try to give them a good structure, so that they know where they are going, and when we look at our games, we like when our games look the same all the time. There’s no gray zone for goalies, it’s black and white. So we make sure that over the months and months, things become really, really clear for them, always combining the mental part of the game.”
Another major focus for Raymond and Allaire is building relationships with their goaltenders, ensuring that there is trust between player and coach so that Raymond and Allaire can get a precise idea of what makes their pupils tick.
“That’s always important, because those guys have had other coaches before,” Raymond said. “They had other beliefs, sometimes. So that’s why you have to be patient, so that they can realize, when you bring good videos, bring good examples, the guys are smart, they can realize themselves, they see it, ‘Oh, makes sense.’ It’s the way you do it, is the most important thing, and we try to do it as soft as possible, to bring them where we want them to be.”
With this year’s Wolf Pack team, Raymond has had three rookies, Alexandar Georgiev, Chris Nell and Brandon Halverson, to work with, along with fifth-year veteran Marek Mazanec. He is upbeat about how his interactions have gone with all four.
“It’s really good,” Raymond said. “The guys that are here, they want to move up, they’re passionate about hockey. They’re pros, they want to get better. My two years that I’ve been here, there’s always been really good relationships with the guys, and I think they feel that they can come talk to me. And when it’s time to work, it’s time to work, and when it’s time to talk or have a laugh, it’s time to have a laugh also. We try to have that good connection, and I think we manage pretty well.”
The addition of the seasoned Mazanec, who signed as a free agent with the Rangers December 6 after starting the year in Russia’s KHL, was a big lift for the entire organization’s netminding situation, according to Raymond.
“It’s good to have a veteran, just to settle that boat, and it’s good for everyone when everyone is in the right spot in the organization,” he said. “Everyone can learn from everyone else, and being a young goalie coming into this league, it’s good to have a veteran. And at the end of the day, it’s their time they earned to be in the net, to try to get better every day and to get a good performance every day. It’s a constant battle for those guys, it’s about performing and developing.”
Working with Georgiev has involved helping the 21-year-old Russian import adjust from a European style of hockey to a North American mode, and Raymond is happy with Georgiev’s progress in that acclimation.
“It was a little bit of an adjustment, I think, at the beginning, but once again, we didn’t want to go too radical on him,” Raymond said. “We didn’t want to get him out of his comfort zone too quick. So we worked in baby steps, and we gave him time to adjust, from the big ice (in Europe), to a different kind of game, without overloading his head.”
Raymond can definitely relate to Georgiev’s experience, too, because he did the same thing, going the other direction across the Atlantic. After four years of North American pro action, which included 33 AHL games with the Fredericton Canadiens and Rochester Americans, Raymond headed to Europe. He ended up playing 11 more seasons “on the other side of the pond”, nine of those in France.
“It was fun, it was a great time, actually,” Raymond said of his time abroad. “It was different, more practice, less games, it was a good experience. As a goalie, you always adjust to a lot of different things when you go overseas. You’re not in your country, you adjust not only at the rink, but outside the rink. So I think as a person, it makes you grow, and as an athlete it also makes you grow.”
Raymond, who lives in Montreal, spends one week per month with the Wolf Pack, analyzing games and giving intensive instruction in practices. He also serves as goaltending coach for the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL, a role he has filled since the 2010-11. The 45-year-old Raymond thrives on the “double duty”.
“It works well, actually,” he said. “I also go there once a month. I’ve been there ten years, and Halifax is a little like the Rangers of the QMJHL, so I’m pretty fortunate for that. Good organization, good setup, and we’ve had the chance to have good goalies also. Right now our goalie there (17-year-old Alexis Gravel) is ranked number one in North America for the next draft, and we’ve had others before. It’s always fun to work with those guys, they also want to become a pro. It’s a good level of hockey, and it’s quite easy to manage both, because you’ve got games, and you work on your video, and you’ve got plenty of time to take care of it. More experience, I think, makes you better. Helping more goalies can make you a better coach, understanding more things.”
Another of those enriching experiences came Raymond’s way earlier this season, when he got the opportunity to serve as the goaltending coach for the Canadian National Junior Team at the World Junior Championship in Buffalo. Working with netminders Carter Hart and Colton Point, and assisting Head Coach Dominique Ducharme, Raymond was part of a Canadian gold-medal triumph, which he described as unforgettable.
“It was super,” he said. “It was a great month, we were a great staff, unit, team, a big family. I have to say the Canadian Junior Team really put in everything they could to find the edge to win that championship, and I was fortunate to be part of it. It was a really, really fun experience.”
With that to add to his resume, Raymond continues to help mold the Rangers’ goaltending future. When he was a young goalie trying to make his way into the pro game, his mentor and friend Ben Allaire was one of very few full-time goaltending instructors at the pro level, and now no team would go without at least one netminding guru. Interestingly, though, when asked to reflect on the development of puck-stopping education, Raymond talks about the necessity of avoiding over-coaching.
“It’s changed, but the base of the game is, for me, quite the same,” he said. “There’s a lot of technical stuff, and different save selection, obviously it got deeper. But you have to be careful not to get lost in that, because you can always find a new thing, and a new thing, and a new thing. And how much is it really important just to add something, and add, and add, and add? The game has improved a lot, obviously, but at the end of the day as a coach, it’s like when you grow up. You don’t really see it, because you’re in it every day. It just comes naturally and you adjust.”