In one word: MASSIVE.
No one can take away the magnitude of what hiring Barry Trotz means for the future of the New York Islander franchise, but having his friend, long-time colleague, and goaltending physic Mitch Korn now in the fold just might turn out to be the biggest acquisition for the offseason. It was announced today — one day after the Isles named Piero Greco new goalie coach, replacing Fred Braithwaite — that Korn would join the organization as the Director of Goaltending.
Korn, the 60-year old native from the Bronx, started his foray into goaltending as a junior hockey player for the Springfield Olympics winning a National Title in 1976 before attending Kent State University. Following his graduation from Kent State, he joined the Miami (of Ohio) University in 1981 as an assistant coach of the hockey club. He was also handed the role of ice arena administrator. It was at Miami that he coached and befriended future NHL goaltender Steve McKichan.
In 1991, Korn took his first NHL gig when he became a coach with the Buffalo Sabres.
There, developed a young goalie from the Czech Republic, Dominik Hasek. Under Korn’s tutelage, Hasek would win four Vezina Trophies, two Hart Trophies (League MVP), and become one of the best goaltenders of all-time. After seven seasons in Buffalo, Korn moved on to the expansion Nashville Predators where he first began working with Trotz. In his time in the Music City, Korn developed the likes of Tomas Vokoun (300 wins in the NHL), Chris Mason, and Pekka Rinne (now a winner and four-time finalist).
Once Trotz decided to step down after 16 seasons in Nashville in 2014 and took the head coaching job in Washington, Korn followed him to D.C. becoming the new goaltending coach of the club. Spending four seasons with the Capitals, Korn taught Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer. Holtby turned in to a Vezina winning goaltender in 2016 and one of the top goaltenders in the NHL the past four seasons, while Grubauer broke out and has the makings of a legit number one, now possibly with his new club in Colorado.
Trotz taking over as bench boss for the Islanders will bring about a new identity and no-nonsense attitude, but Korn’s arrival signals that the franchise will finally be able to solve their decade-long problem in between the pipes.
Nobody over the past decade that the Isles had as either a goaltending coach or consultant — Mike Dunham, Fred Braithwaite (despite only one season) — were able to develop any of the teams’ prospects into a bonafide number one goaltender. Yes the team had it’s fair share of aging starters — Rick DiPietro, Dwayne Roloson, Evgeni Nabakov, Jaro Halak, Thomas Greiss — but just go back and look at how many goaltenders the Isles had the past 11 years and how none of them in that time could turn in to a starter. Joey MacDonald, Yann Danis, Kevin Poulin, Mikko Koskinen, Al Montoya, Anders Nilsson, Jean-Francois Berube. Any of those names ring a bell? Korn’s track record proves that he will be able to develop that true number one whether it’d be Robin Lehner, Chris Gibson, Linus Soderstrom, Jakub Skarek, or Ilya Sorokin if he makes his way to North America in two years.
What also makes the addition of Korn just a slight more crucial is that he will be able to find out what makes of each of his goaltenders tick.
He did that in with Rinne in Nashville and Hotlby in Washington.
Ben Vanderklok, Korn’s former Nashville assistant goalie coach and current successor, in an interview two years ago revealed that he looks at both goaltenders and life in a cerebral way. He places greater value on molding good people who can handle more in life than just stopping a puck.
“He cares about his players like they’re his own kids,” said Vanderklok. “Sometimes it’s hard to have a relationship with a player outside the rink, but Mitch really values that. He’s as interested in how his player’s family is or some medical condition some family member might have.”
Holtby had the same praise for Korn’s approach.
“What sets him apart is his innovation. He’s always a step ahead of the game,” said Holtby in 2016. “He’s not looking for the late solution to the problem. He’s looking for the problem before it occurs. You don’t see many people in coaching, and especially in goaltending, be like that. He just really gets into seeing people become their best self. You can see that at his camps and here in the NHL.”
Working with a “nut” in Lehner, and Greiss, who lost his confidence last year, Korn will get a chance to hopefully re-create what he was able to accomplish the past 12 years. I’ll say this, and it’s been echoed more than once, Greiss could benefit more from Korn watching and teaching him on a daily basis then Lehner. Lehner is still only 26-years old and has something to prove if he wants to have any type of gig come this time next year, while Greiss is 32 and is coming off statistically and professionally the worst season of his career.
If Korn can get through to Greiss and re-establish him as that netminder who the Isles and their fans witnessed the first year and a half of his tenure with the club, he will help take the pressure of Lehner, even though Lehner himself is facing his own critics.
Time will tell what Korn and his “goalie whispering” will do for Soderstrom, one of the supposed goaltenders of the future who is just arriving to North America after playing the past couple years in the Swedish Elite League. The same sentiment can go for Sorokin, if, and only if he does decide to join the Isles after his KHL contract expires in 2020. But if history tells us anything, it’s that Korn working with either of these two could mean great things for the franchise in the future.
Building a winner in the National Hockey League starts from the net on out. We won’t know the results of Korn’s teachings — and Greco’s for that matter — till we see what happens on the ice.
But one thing is certain, the Isles now have their guy who will be able to teach and evolve who’s between the pipes.