Goalie coach St. Croix bides his time with Marlies
LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
|Leafs goalie coach Rick St. Croix (left) was able to see Ben Scrivens, Jussi Rynnas and Mark Owuya (pictured) perform over three consecutive nights -- all Marlies wins. (QMI Agency/Files)
SAN ANTONIO - As Rick St. Croix boarded the Marlies’ bus after Saturday’s game he resisted the urge to wipe his hands and announce “my work here is done.”
The arrival of the new Maple Leaf goaltending coach, in the midst of this hellish road trip, coincided with three wins in as many nights by all three stoppers, two of whom badly needed to boost confidence. Though such trifectas do happen in the weird world of minor-league scheduling — the Binghamton Senators did it early in 2011 — it allowed St. Croix to see all three in a short span and positive light.
He still has much work ahead with Ben Scrivens, Jussi Rynnas and Mark Owuya and has not yet shaken hands with de facto No. 1 James Reimer. But a week of on-ice tutelage with another game in Oklahoma City on Tuesday, gives St. Croix fresh data. After replacing Francois Allaire, who made a loud exit by saying Leaf coaches meddled in his duties, St. Croix can joke about being unbeaten, but not be unrealistic about what short-term impact he can have.
“I don’t like to feel I’m coming in and changing a lot,” said St. Croix, a one-time Leaf in the Harold Ballard era. “But certain things are important and one is making sure they’re all enjoying what they’re doing and enjoying the process.
“If anything, I’d hope they recognize they have a wonderful opportunity to do what they’re doing, that they’re grateful and they hold onto it. Before they know it, it’s gone in the blink of an eye.”
All three Marlie goalies were free agents who followed the allure of Allaire to Toronto. Reimer, an older draft pick, credited Allaire in part for his rapid success, jumping to the NHL in 2010-11. Scrivens was the AHL’s best statistical goalie last season. But the difficulties that Jonas Gustavsson encountered before leaving the Leafs and Reimer’s struggles after his injuries pointed to a change.
St. Croix, who shares Manitoba ties with head coach Randy Carlyle, worked with Ed Belfour in his Cup year in Dallas among other star pupils. But the lockout forbids him access to Reimer and there’s also the chance another NHLer will arrive via trade, perhaps Roberto Luongo.
“This is strange,” St. Croix admitted. “I’m not really connected to the Leafs yet, just the Marlies. I just think there will be a lot of urgency once this (lockout) gets resolved. It will be a shorter time frame for me to work, but we’ll get through it.”
For now, he’s been given a say in who starts each game for the Marlies and has tinkered with a couple of details, such as how the 6-foot-5 Rynnas fields pucks behind the net. The Marlie staff thought that aspect of the Finn’s game looked much more proactive in Friday’s 3-0 shutout in Austin, his second in three starts.
Owuya was slotted for more time in the East Coast Hockey League, but the combination of the lockout tying Scrivens to the farm and the sudden end of the Leafs’ affiliation with the Reading Royals meant with the Marlies have no secondary home for Owuya just yet. He had a good third period in Saturday’s 5-3 win to even his record at 1-1. Marlies’ head coach Dallas Eakins had said Scrivens’ early season hiccups put his No. 1 status in jeopardy, but then Scrivens also closed strong on Thursday in Houston.
“All three have been receptive to me,” Kenora native St. Croix said. “I’m sure they’re all wondering ‘who is this guy? Is he going to help me or hurt me’? You need time to build trust and hopefully, that will unfold here.
“With video, the amount of info you can get now is not in short supply. There is some info that can be drawn upon from (scouting) them in the past when I was in the Winnipeg Jets and Manitoba Moose organizations. But it’s good to see first-hand who’s in our system and relate to them as people.”
Owuya is appreciative of St. Croix’s efforts.
“You can tell he’s done this before. It’s fun, because he works on a lot of things, more than you’re used to. The biggest thing with him is communication. I believe that’s big, too, because if a goalie coach tells you to work on this or that and you’re not comfortable, it’s not going to work.”
Until the lockout ends, St. Croix is taking a bit of time re-discovering his Leaf roots. He played three years at a turbulent time in the club history, spanning the end of 1970s hero Mike Palmateer to the ‘80s rookie tandem of Allan Bester and Ken Wregget. Leaf assistant coach Dave Farrish was a teammate.
“It was an exciting time, but we were not a first-place team,” St. Croix chuckled. “I don’t have many memories of winning, but every experience is a part of a journey and makes you a better person. I met Harold many times. He played a few mental games with me. But I really enjoyed my time. I’m findingf old connections with the Leafs and with Oshawa from my early playing days in the OHL.
I knew my way around the Gardens, but I’ve never seen a game at the Air Canada Centre.”
He hopes to start exerting some influence there soon.