Guest writer Vikash Khanna offers us a look at the man behind Martin Brodeur: long time New Jersey Devils goaltending coach Jacques Caron.
Martin Brodeur's recent milestone victories have elicited a great deal of interest in those who have influenced him over the years. Perhaps no figure has been more intimately involved in Brodeur's success than Jacques Caron, the tall, silver-haired, 69-year-old goaltending coach for the New Jersey Devils.
Caron joined the Devils' coaching staff in 1993, at which point Brodeur was serving humbly in their American Hockey League affiliate in Utica. Caron recognized at a very early stage that the organization had someone extraordinarily special brewing in the pipeline. "I could see his total ability was unbelievable," he later recalled. Using his bilingualism to communicate with the young goalie and make him feel right at home, Caron orchestrated an almost father-son relationship that has endured now for over fifteen years.
More than anyone else, Caron was responsible for developing that hybrid style of Brodeur's we are so accustomed to seeing today. "When I came in," Caron remarked, "he was a typical Québec goaltender; a butterfly goaltender. They play their feet real wide and they fall on every shot, hoping the puck hits them with a thud, with no control." Caron immediately got to work on Brodeur's balance, lateral mobility, and angular positioning. In due course, with Caron's guidance, Brodeur learned how to spend more of his time standing up.
Brodeur credits Caron for keeping him razor sharp during practice sessions, thanks to their endless private on-ice drills and video tape analyses. In between periods of games, Caron is always on hand to provide Brodeur with both technical suggestions and emotional support. Said Devils General Manager Lou Lamoriello, "we just can’t overestimate the value of Jacques." In fact, even though Caron goes about his duties quietly, he is universally recognized around the league as one of the most valuable goaltending coaches of his generation.
Caron's own playing career spanned 18 seasons, most of which were spent either as a backup or in the minors. He established himself playing for the AHL's Springfield Indians from 1961 to 1968. The team was coached by the legendary Eddie Shore, who employed unorthodox tactics such as tying his goalies to the goalposts in order to drill home the importance of having strong footing. (That was old-time hockey for you!) Throughout his minor league career, Caron won a Calder Cup in the AHL; a Patrick Cup in the Western Hockey League; and a Lockhart Cup in the North American Hockey League.
The 1967 Expansion Los Angeles Kings acquired Caron, and although their goaltending was solid with the combination of Terry Sawchuk and Wayne Rutledge, he did manage to log in one game in December (a 4-2 loss). He would enjoy more action during the 1970s with St. Louis and Vancouver, as well as with Cleveland of the World Hockey Association. In all, his numbers were respectable, and his pretzel-like mask memorable; however, his time in the big leagues was plagued with intermittent episodes of retirement, stress and uncertainty.
In 1980, Caron opened a summer goalie school (one of the first of its kind) in his hometown of Rouyn-Noranda, Québec. He worked with the Hartford Whalers as a goaltending coach for several years before solidfying his hockey legacy with Brodeur and the Devils.