BEMIDJI -- Every year for nearly two decades, Toronto Maple Leafs goalie coach Steve Briere has brought his camp to Bemidji to instruct the latest crop of young netminders.
The Winnipeg native started Canadian Professional Goalie Schools in 2000 and began bringing his camps to Bemidji soon after, with the latest taking place this week at Neilson Reise Arena.
As a former Alabama Huntsville goalie, Briere was no stranger to Bemidji when he held his first camp here.
“I came here for the first time in ‘98 and I fell in love with the city,” Briere said. “I thought this was the coolest city ever…. I couldn’t believe that you could go to university, go fishing and play hockey on the same campus.”
Following in the tradition of former Bemidji State coach Bob Peters’s hockey camps, Briere has attracted goalies young and old to Bemidji, as well as to his other camps across North America.
Briere played 10 years of pro hockey before he was later hired by the Leafs in 2015. Among the goalies he’s tutored over the years are NHLers Cam Talbot and Zane McIntyre, as well as former Beavers Michael Bitzer, Matt Dalton and Matt Climie.
“I’ve been around the world from playing hockey,” Briere said of why he started CPGS. “And so I just wanted to give back to the kids, and at the same time, get a chance to train myself.”
This week, campers aged 15-20 worked on improving their skills between the pipes so they can, hopefully, catch the eye of junior and college hockey scouts. Those older netminders also helped mentor the camp’s younger attendees alongside Briere’s group of instructors.
Like the campers, the instructors flock from all over. Two of them traveled from as far away as Scotland and Switzerland to work the camp.
“Without Steve’s help and the camp’s help, there is probably a very slim chance a kid from Scotland is going to make it and play NCAA college hockey,” said Jordan Marr, who attended Briere’s camps as a player more than 15 years ago and is now an instructor. Marr played four seasons at NCAA Division III Finlandia University in Michigan and now plays professionally in the United Kingdom. “I owe so much to Steve and the camps.”
The camp goes beyond just on-ice training.
“Off the ice, for the younger kids it’s about passion,” Briere said. “It’s about teaching them all the great parts of being a goalie. For the older guys, it’s teaching them the mental side of the game, (and) how to stay strong. The older you get, the more pressure there is in juniors and in college and in pro.”
The mental aspect of playing the position, as well as vision work, are also areas of emphasis at the camp. Goalies are, after all, in a unique position compared to their counterparts on the ice.
“Peoples’ careers (and) coaches’ careers depend on them stopping the puck,” Briere said. “So there’s a lot of pressure that comes with that.”
Though it can be easy to single out goalies, Briere’s message to high school and youth hockey coaches is to treat them like any other player.
“Don’t separate them from the rest of the team,” he said. “Their game is different than the forward’s game and the defenseman’s game, there’s no doubt about it. And the whole position of goaltending is completely different, so technically it’s hard to relate to the goalie. But that doesn’t stop you from making them part of the team.
“... (Goalie is) a really lonely position. My biggest advice is just to include them in everything and have them be a big part of everything that you do with everybody else and don’t just leave them off to their own. They’re already by themselves the whole game.”
What Briere most wants his campers to take away from their experience is his emphasis on being a good person, not just a good goalie.
“We stress that over and over and over again,” Briere said. “And I think all my instructors will tell you the same thing. It’s about being a good person. That’s first and foremost. Because you’re going to be a person a lot longer than you are an athlete, no matter what.”