Name: Mitch Korn
Hometown: Bronx, NY. Current: Estero, FL
Professional Sports: Currently: Director of Goaltending for the Washington Capitals. Entering his 27th year in the NHL. 1991-1998 Buffalo Sabres, 1998-2014 Nashville Predators, 2014-Present Washington Capitals.
Pro goalies include: Braden Holtby, Dominik Hasek, Grant Fuhr, Tomas Vokoun, Philipp Grubauer, Pekka Rinne, Carter Hutton, Devin Dubnyk, Scott Darling, Anders Lindback, Pheonix Copley, Jeremy Smith, Vitek Vanecek, Parker Milner, Adam Carlson, Magnus Hellberg, Marek Mazanec, Mike McKenna, Chris Mason, Dan Ellis, Marty Biron, Mark Dekanich, and Drew MacIntyre
(Braden Holtby, Mitch Korn, and Philipp Grubauer)
This TNG contribution comes from one of the most tenured goalie coaches in the NHL today. Mitch Korn’s fingerprints can be found across the goalie world, ranging from NHL legends, to the youth of the nation every year. We are excited to share our interview with Mitch and give you an inside look at some of the stories and life lessons that he has experienced and utilizes in his everyday teachings.
TNG: Your journey to becoming an NHL goalie coach is a fascinating story. How did you get your big break?
Korn: I was doing a goalie camp for a friend of mine who ran the amateur hockey development for the Buffalo Sabres. He hired me to do the goalie camp under the Sabres hockey umbrella. I was in the old Sabre practice locker room at the old Sabre practice facility, at that time, called Sabreland. The locker room for the team was upstairs, and we used that as our classroom. I was showing a video that I put together for the camp. The video took me 20 hours to produce. Those were the days we didn’t have computers, we used two VHS machines and we did what we called crash editing. Editing one VHS tape to another VHS tape. Now, I always point out that this wasn’t my camp. I did it for somebody else, and I wasn’t highly compensated. However, I spent 20 hours before camp to try to make a better camp. It is one of the life lessons I share with the kids in camp all the time. “It is not worth doing unless you are doing your best.” I didn’t need to do that, I WANTED to do that.
The second life lesson I always talk about is that you never know who’s watching. I didn’t realize, but Rick Dudley, the coach of the Buffalo Sabres at the time, had an office adjacent to the locker room where we were holding the class. He came out of his office, the lights were off, kids were sitting in the lockers and on the floor, and he sat in a locker hidden in the back. He listened to this 15-minute video that took me 20 hours to make and one hour to present. Rick later said, as he sat there and watched, thinking to himself, “I didn’t know that… I didn’t know that. I think I want to hire this guy.” Then he watched what we did on the ice.
The two morals of this story: It’s not worth doing if you don’t do your best. If I didn’t do my best, there never would have been a video. Second, you never know who’s watching. I never saw Rick Dudley sitting in the back of the room, but that’s how I got hired by the Buffalo Sabres in 1991. Rick and I are still friends today.
TNG: The game has changed so much over the years, especially in the position that you coach. How have you evolved to stay ahead of the curve?
Korn: You have to evolve every day. You have to listen every day. One of the reasons I still do goalie camps for kids is that if you sit in your NHL ivory tower and don’t interact with the youth of today, you will lose touch with the position very quickly. These kids can predict where the game is headed in 5-6 years. When I got into the league in 1991, goalies were still making skate saves and stacking their pads. Post play and positioning was very different. Sliding didn’t even exist. The game has evolved, and continues to evolve every day. When we came out of the NHL lockout in 2005, there were a lot of rule changes and a lot of adjustments to the manner in which the game was played. The goalie equipment shrunk. The hooking and holding were outlawed to a much stronger degree. The pure ‘butterfly’ goalie disappeared overnight. When you talk about this new NHL, I always say that every day is the new NHL. Every day it gets faster. Every day the players get more creative and more deceptive. It will continue to change, and the pace of change will get faster.
(Mitch and a few of his campers)
TNG: You have helped so many people become successful. What stories stand out when you think of your impact on their careers and lives?
Korn: A lot of people measure success differently. To some, it’s just pure winning, regardless. To others, it’s economics. I measure success not by the scoreboard, but by the growth in people. I have been very fortunate in my lifetime, with those I have worked with in pro hockey, at Miami University, and those that I had been able to have a positive influence on in my summer camps. The success of goalies in pro hockey is well documented. I also worked at Miami University (in Ohio) for 30 years and believe have had a positive impact on many while coaching, running the Goggin Ice facility, and running the Miami Hockey School. All of them, including those who have participated, worked, or trained in my summer camps, hopefully have gained knowledge and experience to assist for a career in hockey, or whatever field they may have gone into. That is the part I’m the proudest of. It’s what I want on the gravestone… the positive impact we have had on people, both young and old.
A lot of people ask me, “well, which are you the proudest of?” I don’t think that’s a fair question. I counter with the question,
“Do you have any brothers or sisters?”
They reply, “Yeah, I got two brothers and a sister.”
Okay, which one is your Dad’s favorite? That basically is what you’re asking me, and it’s not a fair question.”
Barry Trotz refers to all of the people we are discussing as ‘Children of the Korn’. I don’t think it’s fair to pick one of my ‘children’ over another. At the end of the day, the growth in people is what I am most proud of. I have a saying I tell every goalie I’ve worked with and those I have managed. I say “I can’t make you a lot of promises, but I will promise you one thing. You will leave here better than when you got here. If that is accomplished, I have done my job.”
TNG: What drives you to be the best at what you do?
Korn: When you’re an athlete, especially a goalie, you have to have a burning desire to make a significant, positive difference in the game. As a coach, or manager of people, this is no different. You have to have a burning desire to make that same positive difference. Not necessarily in the game, but in the day-to-day lives of the people you are impacting. The burning desire just shifts from playing to coaching/managing.
TNG: What values do you think are most important for people to reach their potential?
Korn: In my lifetime, I’ve watched different generations embrace different things. To be successful, there has to be selflessness. The understanding of synergy that you can have with other people . Looking at big pictures instead of a specific moment in time. Athletes need to understand that success is measured in many different ways, independent of a scoreboard. There needs to be a burning desire and similar to how I got the job, it’s not worth doing, unless you do your best. And it really helps, if you truly LOVE IT. I have coached many who had world class talent, but just didn't love it enough to reach their potential.
TNG: What do you feel has been your biggest impact on the game of hockey?
Korn: Wow. On the surface, it would probably be the Pekka Rinne’s, the Thomas Vokoun’s, the Chris Mason’s, and the Braden Holtby’s of the world. And I am real proud of having had the opportunity to contribute to their success, and help in any manner that I could. But for me, it’s the positive impact we have had on the names you’ve never heard of. Whether it’s kids that have come to camp, young coaches now making a living in hockey, former Miami students, etc.
In my last year in Nashville in 2013-2014, we signed a goalie named Carter Hutton. He had a particular technique issue that we felt needed to be fixed. It came to me, that the use of a medicine ball in a variety of ways could fix the issue. It worked. In a quick three years, the medicine ball has become mainstream. Goalie coaches across the world are using it, or something like it. THAT is really cool… to be able to come up with something or do something that permeates an entire industry.
I would like to believe that in my career, only because of the longevity of it, we’ve done a lot of cool things that have become staples in the goalie industry. Any time you get a chance, in any field, to reach the highest level of that field, whether you’re a school teacher, a professor, a doctor, a businessman, a nurse, whatever it is…to reach the pinnacle of your profession is really special. Having not played in the NHL and having not been a part of that network, yet entering that network in a very unique way… I am very proud of that.
(Dominik Hasek, Braden Holtby, and Mitch Korn with the Vezina Trophy)
TNG: Where do you think Goaltending is going in the future?
Korn: I can’t predict the future. When I started in Buffalo in 1991, I would have never expected goalies to play as they are today. Every generation is better than the previous generation. It is becoming a young man’s game and the younger goalies are getting better faster than in the past, therefore, the turnover will start getting faster.
To learn more about Mitch's story and his goalie camps, visit www.mitchkorn.com