Warren Strelow, seen in this 2006 photo, was the first full-time goalie coach in the NHL. ((Getty Images))

Warren Strelow, a pioneering goaltending coach and assistant for the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, died Wednesday. He was 73.

Strelow, who mentored a string of successful goalies for the San Jose Sharks during the past 10 years, died in Worcester, Mass., home of the Sharks' top minor-league affiliate, the NHL club said.

He had a special gift that only the great have.' — Ron DeGregorio of USA Hockey

Strelow, a diabetic who had a stroke on Feb. 28, had been in poor health for several years after undergoing a kidney transplant.

"Warren was truly a one-of-a-kind individual who overcame many obstacles in recent years and was an inspiration to our entire organization," Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said.

"His passion for the game of hockey will always live in our hearts, and we will carry on with Warren's lifelong dream of winning the Stanley Cup. He will always be with us."

Strelow was the first full-time goalie coach in the NHL with the Washington Capitals from 1983 to 1989 and had a similar role with the New Jersey Devils from 1990 to 1993 when he worked with Martin Brodeur.

Hired by San Jose in 1997, Strelow helped the Sharks become one of the best consistent developers of goaltending talent in the NHL.

The highlight of Strelow's lengthy career was his work with the "Miracle on Ice" U.S. Olympic team in 1980, when he aided coach Herb Brooks, his former boss at the University of Minnesota. Backstopped by goalie Jim Craig, the team stunned the sport and inspired the U.S. by beating the Soviet Union and winning the gold medal in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Strelow also worked with the 2002 U.S. team, which won silver medals. In 2004, he was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame.

"He's an American treasure," Ron DeGregorio, president of USA Hockey, said of Strelow. "He could work with the youngest amateur and the best professional equally well.

"He had a special gift that only the great have."

Shaped style and technique

Strelow became the NHL's first full-time goaltending coach when the Washington Capitals hired him in 1983, following his years at the University of Minnesota and various Minnesota high schools.

After seven successful seasons with Washington, Strelow spent three years with the New Jersey Devils, working closely with a young Brodeur.

During his decade with San Jose, Strelow shaped the style and technique of current Sharks goalies Evgeni Nabokov and Vesa Toskala, who both spoke on the phone almost daily with the coach even when his illnesses kept him home in Minnesota.

He spent time in San Jose this season, riding a motorized scooter around the locker room to visit his players.

"We will miss him, but he will always be in my heart," Nabokov said before the Sharks' first playoff game against Nashville on Wednesday night. "He was just a great guy … The one thing he always wanted was a Stanley Cup, so we've got to give it to him."

Four goalies named to all-star teams

Under Strelow's tutelage in 2000-01, four goaltenders in the Sharks system were named to their respective leagues' all-star teams — Nabokov in the NHL, Miikka Kiprusoff in the AHL, Terry Friesen in the WCHL and Johan Hedberg in the IHL.

Nabokov was the NHL's rookie of the year in 2001. When Kiprusoff won the Vezina Trophy last year with the Calgary Flames, he acknowledged Strelow in his acceptance speech.

Before going to Washington, Strelow spent eights seasons as a scout: four with Calgary of the World Hockey Association and four with the NHL Central Scouting Department.

Strelow coached goaltenders at the University of Minnesota from 1974 to 1983, during which time the Golden Gophers won three U.S. titles and twice finished second.