For those of you who do not know, Marc Champagne was the goalie coach the last couple of seasons for the Islanders. Most Islanders fans are only familiar with former head goaltending coach for the New York Islanders, Mike Dunham, yet Marc was a coach heralded as the “Jaroslav Halak whisperer.” The numbers for Halak with Champagne vs. without him are eye-opening. In three seasons with Champagne, Jaroslav Halak averaged a 2.51 goals against average and a .916 save percentage. Without Marc Champagne, Halak has a 3.24 goals against average and a .904 save percentage. I’m sorry Garth Snow, but the numbers don’t lie, you needed Marc Champagne on your goalie staff.
How can Greiss and Halak turn their games around?
“It all comes down to preparation and work, I think if they put in the work, then it’ll build up and they’ll be able to turn their games around. If they keep doing the right things to prepare themselves and focus, eventually they’ll reach an element of success. They just need to keep doing the little things right and the best will happen for them.”
Is it the defense or goaltending that need improvement? And if so, who should they acquire?
I think the defense is pretty good and maybe they’re a little bit young, but the guys that they have know the system in place. It’s normal for young guys to experience some form of growing pains and to struggle at the beginning, but they’ll come together at the right time. It takes game action to improve yourself, and be more mature. Maybe their sticks are a little too tight and they just have to relax, do the stuff that they are born to do. They have a good coaching staff that has the ability to get these guys ready to compete at a high level. They’ll learn, it’s a part of a learning process. No one said it was easy coming from the American Hockey League to the NHL level, it’s a big step. At the NHL everyone knows their job pretty well, I think that it’s just a matter of time before their games start to really improve.”
What are you currently doing?
“I’m no longer with the club, after last season the Islanders decided to part ways. I’m currently in Montreal working at a school where I teach physical education and a hockey program there. I’m back to doing my normal routine, working with kids and bringing the NHL experience back into the youth organizations they have in Montreal. I’m helping with the AAA program and getting them ready for the junior levels. It’s just a unique experience at a different level and learning the new systems they have in place here. The kids are well prepared to make that next jump in becoming a professional hockey player, it’s fun so far. I’ve been having a very good year. In Montreal hockey is our religion, our church. The players’ are coming along pretty well, but even they have to go through some growing pains, just like Toronto did. As long as they keep working hard, good things will come for the young guys we have here.”
Did you like the three-goalie tandem?
“When I was there we had three goalies, it’s never the perfect system to have because there is only two nets. That means that one player is off to the side, not getting proper work, which is never an atmosphere you want to implement. I tried to keep each guy working hard whenever it was possible. I know one goalie couldn’t get into game shape, but our staff tried the hardest we could to do that. I always thought it would be good for one player to get sent down (to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers), that way they can get in the work that is needed and improve their game. The AHL could keep their games up and train them for in-game moments. Again, if you have three goaltenders, then one is not going to play. If you play often, you don’t think anymore, it’s all instinct. When you don’t play, you start to doubt yourself, you know what happens there. You start to have a tight stick, you start to worry about the next shot, they have to play. If you have three guys, they all have to play.”
How much of an impact can a goalie coach have on a player?
“The goalie coach can have a big effect on a player. You can’t forget that they have two goalies to take care of and that the head coach has 22-24 players to manage. We have a really tight bond with the goalies because we’re always together, whether it’s reviewing game film, or just practicing over the summer. The bond is your relationship. It’s like with a salesman, the bond is your product and you hope they buy it. If the goalie doesn’t buy it, then you have a problem. It’s very important to have a great bond with your players’. I think the relationship is the most important thing between a goalie coach and his goalie.”
Do you believe the Isles have a goalie in the system that can get to the NHL?
I like Soderstrom and Sorokin, I got a chance to work with them. Sorokin is ready, there’s no doubt about that! He’s ready to make the jump, but I don’t know what’s going on in his case. Linus is coming up; I don’t know how he did this year because I haven’t really been following him because I’m no longer with the organization, but he had a good year before. He’s young, but he’ll learn his skill and how to make the jump to the National Hockey League. He’s crafty, he’s a good prospect. The scouts seem to be doing a great job and I think the future is bright for the Isles, I’m not worried about that. They got to just keep working and good things will come. You don’t know when it’s coming, but once the team gets to that next step consistently, they’ll be a powerhouse.”
It was an honor being able to interview Marc Champagne. He really knows everything about goaltending and the Islanders organization. I wish him the best of luck in Montreal!