Howard, Elliott Perfect System
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
MILWAUKEE Bill Howard has been coaching goaltenders at Wisconsin for a long time, and his list of proteges is a well-chronicled who's who: Curtis Joseph, Mike Richter, Jim Carey, Bernd Bruckler, Kirk Daubenspeck, and so on.
But when Hobey Baker Award candidate Brian Elliott went down with an injury in January, and freshman Shane Connelly was thrown into the first without an NCAA game under his belt, Howard was put to the test.
Connelly subsequently struggled, and some outsiders called into question Howard's methods. Connelly came in as a skating goaltender, with years under his belt playing a certain style. Howard wants his goaltenders to play straight up with economy of movement.
Further, Elliott's credentials were questioned, too. After all, he never appears to be making a huge save.
But with a national championship now under the belt of both men, all criticisms, whether they were deserved or not, are hushed.
"I'm not going to say who's the best I've ever had, because I've had a lot of great athletes and good kids and great goalies, but Brian has been the most coachable kid I've ever had," Howard said. "He's bought into my system and he's been the hardest worker and by far the most coachable kid I've ever had, and he deserves everything he got."
What you see when everything is working well is a goaltender who appears to have a magnet in his chest. As Elliott marched through the NCAA Tournament, it seemed uncanny that everything that came his way hit him right in the letters.
It's easy to say that he's only good, not great; he doesn't make spectacular saves; his defense is great; he's a product of the system; and so on. But Howard says there is a greatness in what Elliott does.
"It's all about positioning and being in the right goalie stance, and not moving a lot, and being patient and waiting for the puck to come to him," Howard said. "(Elliott) worked hard to get to that point, and he makes tough saves look easy just because he plays under control and plays with such great patience. And that's why you see a lot of pucks hit him."
Meanwhile, Connelly is left with plenty to learn. All of his prior training was almost moot. So his struggles were to be expected, and Howard never wavered.
"It would've been difficult for any freshman," Howard said. "When Brian came in he had to learn how to play the system. And the system works. If you play under control ... it's easier to play. Shane wasn't quite ready for that, but I'll give him credit, he got better as he went along."
Nowadays, most NHL goaltenders skate a lot and move well. But Howard believes his system still will translate to the next level.
"I don't think there's any doubt about it," Howard said. "Because up at the pro level, you really only have to stop one shot. Because up at the pro level, you really only have to stop one shot. They're bigger and stronger and you get so much more help. So Brian's ability to stay in his crease and control the puck and so on, yeah, he'll have no trouble making that next step.
"But he can't go for another year. I told him, if he left, I'd retire."