Exter: Passing On Lessons Learned
by Joseph Edwards/CHN Writer
It's safe to say that Joe Exter has had a lot of experience in a lot of different nets. He spent a brief time in the OHL, a year in the USHL, and four years at Merrimack before spending two seasons in the Pittsburgh Penguins system in the ECHL.
When it comes to places for goalies to develop their skills and careers, Exter has certainly been there, done that.
Now, he's passing that knowledge on in his fourth year as USA Hockey's first-ever full-time goaltending coach. He's responsible for the goalies on the World Junior Championship team, as well as overseeing the U-17 and U-18 squads. He is the coordinator at the Warren Strelow National Goaltending Mentor Program, where he works with young goalies of all ages and both sexes.
"We're really trying to make sure we develop goalies, at all aspects of the position, and help them reach their full potential," Exter says. "You won't reach your full potential if you're not there physically, mentally, technically. Our goal is that when our goalies leave our program, they'll be well rounded. I feel we should be involved in their development throughout the hockey world."
Where they head when they leave, however, has become a hotly debated topic. The NCAA and CHL — both stops in Exter's developmental tours — have been waging war against one another over the past few months, though it's one that Exter would prefer to remain out of.
"It's an individual choice," he stresses. "What college offers is off the charts, it's a great opportunity. Junior hockey is a great experience. Both have developed good quality people. "
Exter's job is not to steer his protégés one way or the other, but simply to put them in a position to excel in both.
"The environment that we put them in, it's your job to challenge them to master the moment. You must really be in the moment, and then you'll have success. They have to be focused on the next shot — the previous shot doesn't matter."
He points to Jack Campbell as an example. Campbell, the first goalie taken in this year's NHL Entry Draft, played in the U-17 Hockey Challenge before backstopping the US to the gold medal at the 2010 World Juniors, and his evolution between the tournaments was obvious.
"As a 17-year-old, he was put in a big environment. At the U-17s in Canada, he raced ahead to the achievements at the end [the U.S. finished in third]," Exter says. "That experience, he learned from it. At the U-18 the next year, he had the same opportunity for great achievements, but he didn't race ahead."
Campbell famously de-committed from Michigan over the summer, opting instead to head to the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL. While Exter did not lead him to one end or the other, he did share his experiences with the young goalie.
"I got a taste of all the experiences, and I did it all in good places," Exter says. "I was able to learn a lot, and that allows me to help the players. They know that mine is not an opinion based on something I've read, but something that I did."
For all of his work now, college hockey fans are more apt to remember Exter's name from the ignominious way his college career ended. He reflects fondly on his college days (he notes that he still follows Merrimack's progress, and contacts the coaches from time-to-time, saying, "It's good to see the program where it is"), but then there's the one he doesn't remember.
On March 8, 2003, Exter was playing in the second game of Merrimack's first-round Hockey East playoff series against Boston College, and ended up in a race for a loose puck with Eagles' forward Patrick Eaves. The two collided, Eaves' knee striking Exter in the head, knocking his helmet off, and causing the goalie to slam his head on the ice. His skull was fractured, his ears bled, and he unconsciously went into a seizure. He was diagnosed with a serious concussion, put into an induced coma, and had several invasive brain surgeries.
While his full recovery in less than a year was referred to as nothing short of 'miraculous' in the medical community, Exter holds no ill-will towards Eaves, who plays for the Red Wings in Detroit — less than an hour down the road.
"I haven't [spoken with him]," Exter says. "It was just two kids playing hockey hard — the way it should be played, you both go 100 percent. It's great to see him doing well. That experience stayed with me, and has helped me to today, and I'm sure it's stayed with him and made him who he is today."
Exter's experiences, it seems, go far beyond that of any normal goalie.
They help him in his role to develop the next generation, get them ready for whatever their next level may be.
"Coaches need to make positive impressions," he says. "There are challenges that [being a goalie] presents, mentally, physically, technically."
Joe Exter has taken them all on, and then some. Seemingly, he has taken every road through the hockey world, and for young goalies across the country that may be the future for the USA in the crease, that will make the difference.