Passing on the torch

From the net to goalie coach in Granada

21.07.2017
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From left to right: Krisztian Budai (Hungary), Nicole Arnberger (Austria) and Masahito Haruna (Japan) have all represented their countries in the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship program and recently started to work as goaltending coaches. Photo: Martin Merk

GRANADA, Spain – At the 2017 IIHF Women’s Goaltending Development Camp goalies from 16 countries in Europe and Asia learn how to get better from world-class instructors. To make their countries better and close the gap to the top-two countries from North America is a declared goal.

To make these countries better it’s important to bring knowledge not only to the selected goalies here in Granada but also to their country. That’s why some of the countries made use of the possibility to add a goaltending coach to their delegation. 11 of the participants are goaltending coaches who want to learn from the coaches and mentors here. Most of them are men with the exception of Nicole Arnberger from Austria and Natalya Skobelkina from Kazakhstan.

Several of these goaltending coaches have names that are not unknown in international hockey. Beside Arnberger, who still is a player, two of the coaches are former national team goalies who retired recently to launch a new career including Krisztian Budai from Hungary and Masahito Haruna from Japan, who also help their junior goalies here with translations.

“It’s now my second year as a coach after finishing my career 2016. I enjoy it here and I’m happy to be part of the IIHF’s first goaltending development camp. I work with the women’s national teams and at MAC Budapest with youth goalies, at the club mostly with boys but we have one female goalie too,” said Budai.

The 37-year-old played mostly in Hungary with Szekesfehervar, Ferencvaros Budapest and Miskolc winning eight national titles and one season with MHK Kezmarok in the Slovak Extraliga. He was part of eight World Championship teams including the 2009 squad that played in the top division in Switzerland. “I played 20 years and everybody loves playing but I felt it was better to finish and start my coaching career. I wanted a new challenge,” Budai said.

For Budai becoming a goaltending coach was a natural step he achieved gradually. “When I played at some clubs I helped the younger goalies because we don’t have many goalie coaches in Hungary but the real start was after I quit. I worked with many junior goalies and with women,” he said. “It’s a big responsibility to help them and teach them. It’s not an easy job but it’s a lot of fun and it’s good to see how they develop. It’s a good feeling to see how they become better day by day.”

Here in Granada he’s for the first time at an international camp to get different views, see how goalie coaching is done in top countries and take back home as much as possible.

“It’s really good here. We have experienced coaches here. Joe [Johnston] is amazing, he was at the pro level in every category. The mentors are really good and the colleagues too, so I can learn a lot,” he said about his week in Spain. “My goal is to help female goaltenders in Hungary. I want to teach them how they become better and better goalies.”

One of the two female coaches registered here is Nicole Arnberger. At 22 years of age she’s much younger than most of her colleagues in the coaches’ room. She’s still a player of the Austrian women’s national team and the Sabres Vienna but is already planning so far ahead that this is actually her second IIHF camp.

“I was last year at the Women’s High-Performance Camp in Vierumaki. It was really interesting, a totally new experience for me. I learned a lot of exercises and techniques used in other countries and that are good to use in our country,” she said.

Quitting the net is not an option yet for Arnberger, who calls her World Championship Division I participations in 2015 and 2016 and the 2012 Youth Olympics on home ice in Innsbruck her highlights.

“I still play for the national team and the Sabres Vienna and want continue as long as possible. But I wanted to start early as a goaltending coach. It would be nice to be able to live from that but I’m not sure if we’re that advanced yet in Austria,” she said.

“We have a goaltending coach for the women’s national team and there may be some in youth hockey but for women’s teams we don’t have any. I hope I can work in that area. I’ve started in youth hockey and once with the U15 women’s national team but usually we have our camps at the same time.”

Arnberger likes it here in Granada. She learns how to become a better goaltending coach but at the same time also how to improve as a goalie herself. “It’s a bit unusual because you don’t execute yourself but need to teach what to do but I have some practice now and I can learn here both as a coach and as a goalie. I know more about details I have to focus on and about reasons why things are done like they are,” she said.

Masahito Haruna leads the Japanese delegation here in Granada. The 44-year-old just ended his lengthy career as a player after two decades as a professional goalie in Japan and was one of the most storied netminders in Japan beside former Los Angeles Kings goalie Yutaka Fukufuji.

“Fukufuji is great. He is a legendary player for us. My last season I played with him on the same team, that was exciting. I hope he will play more,” he said. “But for me. I played 20 years, so it was time to retire.”

He was on the roster of ten World Championship teams and played two games in the top division at the 2003 Worlds but calls winning the Asian Winter Games twice his career highlight.

“It’s tough for us because we have Kazakhstan there, which is normally a top-division team. My highlight as a coach was to win the Final Olympic Qualification in Japan in February and I hope my new highlight will come at the Olympics in PyeongChang,” he said.

Haruna still lives in Nikko, 120 kilometres north of Tokyo, where he played his last Asia League season and works for the federation with the women’s national teams.

Changing after so many years in the net to pass the torch to a young generation of female goalies was a big change for him.

“It was a new challenge. You need to change your mind. I was thinking as a player and now I need to focus on my goalies. They have different characters and different techniques, that’s something I had to adjust too,” he said.

“I want to learn here to help the goalies in Japan. I want to learn new techniques. It’s also good to use English here but I should learn more.”

Budai, Arnberger and Haruna are three of the ladies and gentlemen who learn here for their work outside of the net and it can be hoped that for all the participating goaltending coaches the effort here will bear fruits in their countries in the years to come.

MARTIN MERK

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