Chances are if you’ve come to a game, listened to enough interviews from the coaching staff or players, you will have heard the name Ben Vanderklok.
His name can fly under the radar somewhat but the products we’ve seen in net over the years should speak volumes of his work. Marek Mazanec, Scott Darling, Magnus Hellberg, Jeremy Smith, Atte Engren, Anders Lindback, Mark Dekanich, Chet Pickard, and many more have all been students of his during his five seasons in the Nashville Predators organization as assistant goaltending coach.
To get an idea of just what Vanderklok does and how he has helped current goalies in camp, such as Mazanec and Darling, I had a chat with the group to find out what our resident goaltending coach does and how the goalies benefit from his coaching.
Vanderklok gets the chance to work the entire organization of the Nashville Predators. That means spending his time with the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL, the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL, and with a rather photogenic group of goalies up in Nashville with the likes of goaltending coach Mitch Korn.
Traditionally, Vanderklok would be using his time making trips throughout the organization. Yet, with the amount of injuries this season in net, it meant the trip to Cincinnati wasn’t needed because Darling was already in Milwaukee. That mean he was able to spend more time with the Admirals – who also had Mazanec and Hellberg around camp.
Scott Darling on Ben Vanderklok:
Darling has been a major benefit to Vanderklok’s services this season. Prior to joining the Milwaukee Admirals, Darling had never had a full-time goaltending coach to work with him during the course of a season. Vanderklok has allowed him to focus his game, bounce ideas off one another, and apply the tutelage on ice.
“It’s nice to have someone to keep me honest,” said Scott Darling. “I’d like to think I am accountable for goals that I let in and know what I did wrong. But, just in case I’m not being real with myself, [Ben Vanderklok] is there to tell me you could have done this or you should have done this.”
With this being his first time working with a full-time goalie coach such as Vanderklok, as well as his longest stint in the AHL level, Darling has responded. He has played in nineteen games this season for the Admirals, winning nine games, recording four shutouts, and has a team best goals against average (2.09 GAA) and save percentage (0.931 SV%) for anyone on the team not named Pekka Rinne.
“Everywhere I’ve ever been it has been – use my size,” said Darling. “Don’t play like I am five-foot five. Smaller guys have to have lots of movement. They get caught scrambling all over the place because they have to. Sometimes I would get out of position. I would make the first save and it would be a free-for-all after that. [Ben Vanderklok] and Mitch Korn, the big focus has been finding the medium between a guy like Ben Bishop -who likes to get a little bit scrambly- and then a guy like Mike Smith – who just stays on the goal line. That’s been our biggest thing.”
While finding the balance can be tricky – for others – just settling into the North American game has its radical adjustments. Mazanec is playing in his first professional season in the States and has already made the leap from the AHL to the NHL and back again – finding success at both levels. That success doesn’t come lightly. There has been plenty of adjustments on making that leap from the Czech Republic to the North American game.
Marek Mazanec on the adjustment from the European game:
Mazanec began the season off with five wins from five starts with the Admirals before getting a look in Nashville. He responded with a Rookie of the Month performance in November and flashed off his capabilities at the top level.
In the NHL, Mazanec played in twenty-five games, won eight games, picked up two shutouts, had a 2.80 GAA, and a 0.902 SV%. With the Admirals in the AHL he has been able to shoulder the load with a team high twenty-three games played, team high twelve wins, a 2.68 GAA, and 0.907 SV%.
The man who is sadly getting lost in the season picture, following his injury in January, is Hellberg. Like Mazanec, he too went through the transition from Europe to North America last season and was able to make really remarkable strides despite all the challenges being thrown at him. In his 2012-13 season he managed to play in thirty-nine games, win twenty-two games, earn six shutouts, and have team bests in GAA (2.14) and SV% (0.924).
This season started off on a shaky note for him, losing ten out of his opening thirteen starts, but he reminded everyone just how sharp he could be with a phenomenal forty-save shutout of the Oklahoma City Barons on 12/12/13. Sadly, just as a window opened from yet another goaltending injury – this time to Darling, Hellberg was also injured in the month of January – denying him a chance to carry the load in net moving forward.
“With his injury these last two months have been tough on him,” said Ben Vanderklok. “[Magnus Hellberg] had a little bit of a slow start. Obviously struggled to get some wins but I didn’t think it was as bad as his win-loss record seems.”
The good news for Hellberg has been that he’s progressing more and more every day. And has been heavily involved in team practices for quite some time now. That has meant a very unique challenge for Vanderklok. Not only are all three goalies in camp – but they aren’t exactly similar netminders.
Ben Vanderklok discuses the differences of Mazanec, Hellberg, and Darling:
When I asked Vanderklok if that meant more work he told me it wasn’t. If anything, it keeps him on his toes when it comes to the different playing styles and philosophies that the current crop of students have to offer.
The names of past students of his should say a lot of what his wisdom brings to the table in Milwaukee. The fact that he has been able to spend the extra time in Admirals camp this season only helps the current trio of goaltenders.
Audio, Full Interview with Ben Vanderklok (5:32):
How have the goalies all looked this season? Who has made the biggest strides?