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Inside the GameThe Children of Mitch Korn

Posted: Thursday, December 5, 2013 | 01:46 AM

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Nashville Predators goaltending coach Mitch Korn, middle, with Cody Reichard, left, and Pekka Rinne at practice on Sept. 12. (Mark Humphrey/Associated Press) Nashville Predators goaltending coach Mitch Korn, middle, with Cody Reichard, left, and Pekka Rinne at practice on Sept. 12. (Mark Humphrey/Associated Press)

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Mitch Korn is a man of small stature, but when it comes to goaltending the Nashville Predators goalie coach is a guru.

Chalk up another one for Rick Dudley.

The Montreal Canadiens assistant general manager has earned a reputable reputation as a scout. But Dudley unearthed a hockey talent of a different kind in 1990 when he discovered current Nashville Predators goalie guru Mitch Korn. 

Back then, Dudley was Buffalo Sabres head coach. One summer day at the Sabres practice facility, he was curious about what was going on in the dressing room adjacent to the team offices.

There, at the front of the room filled with kids, was a passionate speaker going over the finer points of goaltending with the help of a video on an old VHS machine.

Dudley was fascinated. What Korn advocated made sense. A year later, Dudley hired Korn away from Miami of Ohio University and, 23 years later, the man short in stature has made a huge impact.

Just look at all the goalie coaches around the league who are disciples of Korn - or like Predators head coach Barry Trotz likes to say, "Children of the Korn. Mike Valley (Dallas), Corey Hirsch (St. Louis), Clint Malarchuk (Calgary), Olaf Kolzig (Washington), Mike Dunham (N.Y. Islanders), Wade Flaherty (Winnipeg) and Mike Bales (Pittsburgh) all learned from Korn.

Just look at the goalies Korn has worked with since 1990, from one his first students in Dominik Hasek, who became the game's most dominant netminder under Korn, to Tomas Vokoun to Pekka Rinne, currently one of the game's best.

Even with Rinne currently out with a hip injury, Korn's latest protégés - youngsters Marek Mazanec and Carter Hutton - have kept the Predators in the playoff picture. Mazanec won NHL rookie-of-the-year honours for the month of November.

"He [Korn] absolutely loves the position," said Hutton, a 27-year-old from Thunder Bay, Ont.

"I haven't been around a person like him. He knows so much about the position, but yet he's always finding out new things.

"He's always on the cutting edge, dissecting us, dissecting other goalies. He's constantly finding ways to make us better."

'That's my life'

On a recent trip to Toronto, Korn took his two young goalies to the Hockey Hall of Fame to show them the old goaltending equipment on display. Korn can't get enough of the game, today and yesterday.

"If you think about the modern era, that's my life," he said. "I remember a six-team league to 12 teams, going to the new Madison Square Garden to where the game is now."

It was at Madison Square Garden where Korn became a goalie nut. He was born and raised in the Bronx. His team was the New York Rangers. His hero was Blueshirts goalkeeper Eddie Giacomin.

When Korn was a kid, he fondly remembers making the trek out to New Hyde Park on Long Island to watch the Rangers practice and met Giacomin afterwards.

Several years later, Korn had moved on to tend goal at Kent State. Giacomin had moved on, too, to the Detroit Red Wings. When the Red Wings were in Cleveland one night to play the Barons, Korn scored a ticket to the game and a pass afterwards to get down to the dressing rooms. He met Giacomin for a second time.

"It was a brief encounter," Korn said. "We didn't talk about anything in depth.

"He was nice enough to answer a couple questions."

With the Sabres, Korn made a swift impact. In his second year, Hasek arrived on the scene, but pulled a stomach muscle early. Still, it didn't take long for him to find his game under Korn, winning six Vezina Trophies and Olympic gold in 1998.

"I like to joke that we got Dom before he was Dom," Korn said. "I had no issues with him.

"He worked hard and he listened. We protected Grant Fuhr and left Dom unprotected in the [1993] expansion draft and he wasn't taken [by Florida or Anaheim]."

'A little too busy'

The expansion Predators have had stability with general manager David Poile, Trotz and Korn, each who have been with Nashville since Day 1. Goaltending has been a big part of the Predators success and that continues with Rinne.

Korn was asked how he helped Rinne became such a standout goalie. The first priority was to preach to Rinne that he had more time than he thought.

"He was a little too busy," Korn said. "He wanted the puck so badly that he would scramble to get it instead of pushing across and being more fundamental."

Another big concern early was that Rinne would get beat on the blocker side. His blocker would drop too soon and often he was beaten by left-shooting players coming down the right side.

Rinne also had - and still has - an excellent catching hand. But he overused this skill, so Korn worked with him on this, too.

While some goalie coaches teach a system, Korn treats each of his students differently.

"The first thing you have to build is a relationship," he said. "That's so critical.

"Each guy is different, they need different things. My job is to figure out what they need to succeed and help them figure out how to play well.

"Let's face it, hockey is a game of patterns. The quicker you can figure out the patterns the better you will be."

Follow Tim Wharnsby on Twitter @WharnsbyCBC

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