By Jake Howorth
In his second year at the helm for the North York Ranges, head coach Geoff Schomogyi appointed Rob Gherson as an assistant and goalie coach for this season.
One of the most valuable skills for a coach is first hand experience and that is something Gherson does not lack in the slightness. The former goaltender played 189 games in four seasons with the Sarnia Sting and Owen Sound Attack of the OHL. He turned some heads since it led to the Washington Capitals selecting him in the fifth round of the 2002 NHL.
Gherson bounced around a couple professional leagues in a five years span. When he decided to hang the skates up he turned to the next closest role to the ice, coaching. “The first few years after I stopped playing, I only coached goalies and it was fun, but it can get a bit monotonous and for the most part, you’re not around much at the games to see how what you’re teaching is being applied,” Gherson said. “One of the teams I worked with as a goalie coach asked me to come on the bench with them and work with their players too and I got hooked.”
Goalies, by many are considered a different cat compared to the players. It certainly comes with the position. Similar to skaters in front of them, they have to be physically and technical sound, but there’s a mental battle that can make or break the individual in between the pipes. The relationship between the goalie and coach is ever so important.
“Most of the time, outside of the other goalie, the only person who really knows what you are going through is the goalie coach. Sometimes after a tough loss, it can be pretty lonely as a goalie. I was lucky enough in my career to have a few really good goalie coaches. Larry Lucas in Sarnia helped me so much. I don’t think I realized just how much he did for me until I started coach myself, Gherson explained. “On the mental side of things, through my playing and coaching career, I’ve learned a lot of techniques to stay mentally strong and focus. I don’t think there is one-size fits all approach, every person is different, and it sometimes takes a while to figure out what works for you. If a player, or goalie is struggling with confidence or focus, I’ll try to talk to them and maybe give them some things they can try to get back to what makes them successful on the ice.”
This season, the now 33-year-old has veteran Jett Alexander and OJHL rookie Colby Muise to coach and bring their games to the next level. Alexander came up through North York’s system. He was acquired from the Georgetown Raiders along with now assistant captain Ross Krieger last season. He was the back-up, but it didn’t stop him from being name to the 2016-2017 OJHL First Team All-Porspect. This is the first season Alexander is featured as the number one goalie in the OJHL and Gherson is most impressed by the 17-year-old’s attitude.
“I’m really excited about our goaltending this year. I got to know Jett last year, and he’s a big, athletic goalie who really wants to be the best that he can be. That sounds like it’s not unique, but I’ve been around plenty of guys, both coaching, and playing who didn’t think they had to work, or change anything about their game. He’s been really open to everything I’ve put in front of him,” Gherson explained. “Through the summer we went on the ice together a few time s and he worked hard and I sent him clips of a bunch of games last year and we talked about what he was thinking and what he can do better. I think he took it to heart and he’s been great. I’ve been really happy with how simple his game has been and he’s getting hit in the chest a lot and then still been able to make the big saves when he’s had to.”
The other goalie on the Rangers roster is rookie Colby Muise. The Yarmouth, Nova Scotia native posses a ton of talent, so much so the Cap Breton Screaming Eagles picked him in the seventh round of the 2014 QMJHL draft. He has spend the past couple seasons with Upper Canada College, where he posted the best GAA in the CISAA last year. Coach Gherson has work with the 19-year-old the last couple years at UCC and a couple aspects stand out to him.
“He’s a really athletic kid. He played Varsity football and baseball for his school tea the last couple eyars and was one of the leaders with both baseball and hockey programs. His coach Carl Beaudion couldn’t have spoken more highly of his performance on the ice and off the ice. He’s got really quick hands and he battles hard,” Gherson described. He’s never out of the play. He also play. He also plays the puck really well. When he’s not scoring! He’s really good at getting out hard on dump ins and loose pucks making plays.
In a preseason game against the New Market Hurricanes, Muise scored an empty net goal to hand the Rangers the 4-1 victory. Gherson was yelling at him from the bench to shoot it. A goalies ability to play the puck can make an impact in a different way.
“Last year at UCC he was almost a third defenceman, which let their defence stay up an have aggressive gaps to try to force teams to dump and Colby would go out and get the puck and fire it back out the zone or hit a teammate with a pass”
Gherson professional experience of falling in the finals at the World Under-17 Hockey championships to Russia, making the jump from the UHL to the AHL, winning the Calder Cup in 2008 as a member of the Chicago Wolves and all the ups and downs of being a goalie left a true hockey lesson.
“You can’t let yourself make excuses. As a goalie, sometimes your team doesn’t play well in front of you and you get hung out to dry, at the end of the day, you’re the one who has the goals you let in count against you for the rest of the year. So whether it’s your fault or not, you are held accountable. Maybe the people in the building that night will know it’s not your fault, but your save percentage doesn’t come with footnotes,’ Gherson described. “I would say that the take away from this to apply to coaching is we need to show our players how to take charge of their own career and not accepting that your team didn’t show up one night for our goalies, or if you’re not playing as much as you think you should, the only person you hurt when you make excuses if yourself, so find a way to play better and give you coach no choice but to play you more.”
This accountability toward oneself is one of the stable points to what North York Rangers stand by. Gherson brings loads of experience to the team, but more importantly a culture needed to win championships.
Photo from pioneer98 on Flickr