Coaching helps Brodeur, Giguere get results

Martin Brodeur and Jean-Sebastien Giguere could be brothers. Amazing how similar one is to the other. Two Stanley Cup finals goalies, both from Quebec, both with nearly the same serene demeanor -- was that a smile we saw through that mask? -- and both with an effortless yet lethally effective game.

Effortless -- that's the word. Most of the league's other goalies -- you know, the ones who are watching now -- often look so tired. Roman Cechmanek often comes off as haggard, with his wild eyes and wilder hair; Dan Cloutier sometimes seems shell-shocked; Manny Fernandez, well, c'mon -- smelling salts? All solid playoff goalies, but all fitting into that "goalies are loco" stereotype. So how is it that these two -- Giguere and Brodeur -- are so different, so composed?

It's not ego. Neither is full of himself. Both are actually refreshingly modest. It's not superstition. Ever see Marty with a playoff beard? It's not even experience. Giguere is still a playoff rookie -- as was Patrick Roy in the Cup finals of '86. It's not puck-handling and the vaunted "sixth defenseman." Sure, Brodeur is a wonderful passer. But Giguere? No.

And it's not "the system." Please. Yes, the Devils and Ducks play beautiful lock-down D, but so do the Wild. Brodeur is not the only four-time 40-game winner under several different head coaches because of a system. It only appears that Brodeur and Giguere just have to stand there and let the puck hit them.

It's none of the above. It's preparation, and it's coaching. It's Francois Allaire in Anaheim and Jacques Caron in East Rutherford.

No one is surprised when the Lakers suddenly win under Phil Jackson, when Tampa Bay (and Brad Johnson!) suddenly wins under Jon Gruden, when the Yankees suddenly win under Joe Torre. So what's the shock when two of the best goalie coaches in hockey history manage two very similar goalies all the way to the finals?

Sorry, but Kurt Rambis couldn't get into Shaq's head, Tony Dungy couldn't tweak a quarterback, and Buck Showalter couldn't manage all the Yankees' egos (though he sure came close). Great coaches know mind games -- just ask any Red Wing -- and Brodeur and Giguere are smooth criminals between the pipes because they've been all but hypnotized outside the crease.

Both Brodeur and Giguere grew up as Roy-worshipping butterfly goalies. Both went down too soon, flopped too haphazardly, and found themselves out of position too often. Both then found mentors, and both learned to play percentages and angles.

If it sounds like dull science, that's because it is. Both learned to control rebounds by proper alignment of their bodies. Both learned to, as Allaire says, "build a wall." Now a wall isn't very exciting to watch, but boy it works.

Here's a recent quote from Caron on Brodeur: "Now he's not guessing; he's anticipating -- his anticipation brings him to the proper angles. The game is not as hard for him as other goalies. Where another guy would be deeper, off-angle -- like Curtis Joseph or Ed Belfour -- Marty is already there. He doesn't need to be flipping and flopping."

Allaire could say exactly the same thing about Giguere.

Now let's talk about the worst part of goaltending: fault. Goalies always get blamed, much like quarterbacks and place-kickers and presidents. (You've heard the rink-side chant after a visiting goalie lets one by: "It's all your fault! It's all your fault!") Is Cloutier's job safe in Vancouver? Maybe, maybe not. But is Brian Burke going to ship his entire top line after its mediocre playoff run? No way.

In Caron and Allaire, Brodeur and Caron have someone to share the responsibility -- and the blame. They have coaches who tell them exactly what to do, exactly what they did wrong, and -- most importantly -- what they did right. They treat goals-allowed as learning instruments rather than disasters -- "it's not the elevator," Allaire is fond of saying, "it's the stairs" -- and sometimes they even defend their goalies to the rest of the team.

Funny story from the conference semis: During the first intermission of Anaheim's Game 4 win over Dallas, Allaire rushed over to coach Mike Babcock and said, "Gotta tighten up a little on defense." Babcock laughed and said, "Frankie, we allowed ONE scoring chance!"

Any gesture or word of support after a win or a loss can take the edge off completely. Which is why Giguere often says that win or lose, he'll be a better goaltender after the game. It's not a Knute Rockne cliché -- it's the truth.

Ceaseless preparation before the game, and ceaseless counseling after. That's the secret. That's the reason Brodeur and Giguere are where they are. That's why Brodeur had a special ring made for Caron after he backstopped Team Canada to its first gold medal in 50 years, and why Giguere will probably do something similar at some point in his career -- even as soon as next week.

Eric Adelson is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at eric.adelson@espn3.com.