Personal coach keeps the Eagle flying

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 3:29 PM ET


 Of the millions watching Ed Belfour these days, nobody has a keener eye on the Eagle than Strathroy's Steve McKichan.

 The Toronto Maple Leaf goaltender's personal coach is a consultant, confidante and friend, placing him in a realm different from everyone else.

 Figuratively, he has been standing behind Belfour in the Toronto goal celebrating the triumphs, commiserating with the defeats.

 Mostly, it has been triumphs during Belfour's career that now has him in third place in victories and a crowd of other statistical honours. Tonight, he seeks to add to them when the Leafs meet the Ottawa Senators in the seventh game of their playoff series.

 McKichan doesn't bask in the glow of the Eagle's success. It is Belfour between the pipes doing it all.

 Yet it is reasonable to speculate that McKichan's counsel and special training have played a part. All Belfour's hard work last summer and their weekly consultations during the winter are apparent to himself and McKichan if not everyone else.

 They first hooked up last summer in a rather inauspicious way.

 "It was out of the blue," recalled goal school veteran McKichan, who was in the Vancouver Canucks organization. "He left a message on my answering machine. It was one of 40 messages, just this soft-spoken voice and I didn't clue in until I called him back. Here I was, talking to a hall of fame goalie."

 Belfour had heard good things about McKichan's Future Pro Goalie School and there were some things he wanted to work on. Moreover, his son Dayn was looking to polish his game.

 The Eagle and Eaglet obviously benefited. It is unlikely the Leafs would be where they are without Belfour and 14-year-old Dayn's play with the AAA Mississauga Rebels has attracted junior scouts.

 What, one wondered, could you impart to an NHL goalie who has been at or near the top of his craft for so long? Not fitness, since Belfour is the kind of guy who reaches perfect tone (he has often had the lowest body fat of anyone on several teams, including Team Canada).

 "We spent the majority of time on things that hadn't been in goaltending," McKichan said of their summer work. "Technical things such as transition saves, edge control, more closure. He was hungry to learn new things."

 McKichan felt honoured to work with him. One important element was puck control, the moving of the puck to the skater with the most time and space so it can be moved out of the zone. It has always been a Belfour speciality.

 "The ability to maintain puck possession when a goalie handles the puck is something we're strong on," McKichan explained. "It's a matter of quantifying puck-handling performance. A lot of goaltenders will come out to handle the puck and the other team will somehow get possession of it, whether it's a mess-up on the boards or a direct giveaway.

 "Ed operates in the 90-95 per cent range every time he touches the puck. He's one of the very best who ever played at maintaining puck possession."

 Unfortunately, it's something that doesn't translate to some members of the Toronto defence, otherwise Aki Berg wouldn't have let his man escape to orchestrate the winning goal in Sunday's overtime game that otherwise was a Belfour tour de force.

 McKichan view of Belfour's playoff season is about the same as everyone else's, opponent or otherwise. His goaltending has been exceptional, even for him.

 Short range, it's going to have to continue tonight. Long range, McKichan suspects Belfour Jr. will one day pick up in the NHL where his dad left off.

 "He's the mirror image of his father technically," he said. "He took part in a Leafs skills competition this year and half the guys didn't know which was Ed and which was Dayn."

 Just what NHL shooters need to hear.


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