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Colorado Avalanche Goalie Coach Jussi Parkkila Has a Lot of Work To Do

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Varlamov’s long-time mentor enters a situation with more questions than answers

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Going back to May there was plenty of speculation that the Avs would hire longtime fan target Jussi Parkkila as the new goalie coach. Recently they did just that. It’s a gamble but what he lacks in NHL experience he might make up in time spent mentoring Semyon Varlamov over the years.

CV

Unlike new assistant coach Ray Bennett, who was hired at the same time, little is known about Parkkila other than where he’s worked and some of the better-known goalies he’s worked with. Now age 40, he started his coaching career early back in 2003 in his native Finland.

  • 2003-2007 - Goaltending Coach for Ilves in the Finnish junior league. Worked with a young Tuukka Rask.
  • 2007-2008 - Moved to Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in the KHL where he began mentoring Varly. Also spent some time with the Finnish junior team and did some work for the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the Dub.
  • 2008-2010 - Coached for Tappara of the Finnish Liiga in his hometown of Tampere. Notable protege here was Harri Sateri who spent some time in the Sharks org and will play for Springfield (AHL) this season.
  • 2010-2011 - Went back to the KHL with Atlant Mytishchi
  • 2011-2014 - Moved to SKA St Petersburg where old friend Alexei Gusarov was the AGM. In his second season, he worked with Sergei Bobrovski when the NHL was locked out.
  • 2014-2015 - Spent his last season to date in the KHL with Avangard Omsk
  • 2015-2016 - Coached the Graz 99ers of the Austrian League.

Varlamov

Since they hooked up in Yaroslavl the relationship between Varly and Parkkila has continued. During the summer Varly has often attended camps with his former coach and has on occasion practiced with the teams he’s coached before heading to North America for the NHL season. Back in 2010, Parkkila had this to say about a young and still developing Varly:

...according to Parkkila, Varlamov always wants to get feedback.

“He’s an exceptional talent, and I often compare him to the Boston Bruins’ goaltender Tuukka Rask. Semyon learns fast, and he wants to develop continually. It’s quite a challenge for me, so that I can make sure that I’ll be able to help him,”

“He’s very, very fast, his reactions are fantastic. You can see how fast he moves if there are rebounds. He’s very flexible, there doesn’t seem to be anything his body can’t do,”

Vancouver Canucks v Colorado Avalanche Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

I’d be really interested to hear Varly’s take on working with Francois Allaire during the season over the past few years while still keeping up with his mentor during the summers. From the little I’ve heard the two coaches aren’t remarkably similar in their approaches.

Avalanche Goalie Coach History

When the Avs traded for Varlamov 6 years ago, Kirk McLean was the goalie coach and only part-time at that. This was a source of great angst in the fanbase and his effectiveness, in general, was questioned along with only being around once in a while. Varly had just turned 23 and while extremely quick and talented was still seen as a bit of a project. From an interview with Dmitry Chesnokov right after signing with the Avs:

...I was considering offers from Lokomotiv, from SKA, there were also other options in the KHL. SKA's biggest plus was that Jussi Parkkila is the goaltending coach there. I really wanted to work with this specialist, who has been working with me for the last four years and really helped me in the development of my career. I think the day Parkkila come over to North America and work in the NHL is not far away.

Maybe you can bring him over to Denver?

It would be my pleasure to do that. It's not the easiest thing to do. But agents and I will try to make it happen.

It didn’t happen.

Are you bothered by the fact that the Avalanche don't have a full time goalie coach?

Is this good information? I heard that Kirk McLean works there full time.

It is good information from a Denver source.

Well… I don't know what our work will be like. But I hope Colorado will work with goaltenders every day....

They didn’t.

What basically happened was McLean continued to be part-time and J.S. Giguere, gladly or not, had to fill the roles of backup goalie, competitor for the starting spot and mentor when no goalie coach was available. This was a less than ideal situation that continued until the Sakic-Roy regime took over 2 years later. In those two years, Varly’s numbers were bad (.903 and .913 Sv%) on some pretty heinous teams and regardless of your thoughts on how much effect a goalie coach can have it’s pretty obvious that he was criminally under coached. I can’t imagine what the thinking was behind spending major assets (a 1st and a 2nd) to acquire a talented young goalie then hanging him out to dry.

Enter Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy to save the day. Patty recruited his mentor from his Canadiens days, Francois Allaire, to be the Avs goalie coach and the immediate effects were fantastic. In the miracle 13-14 season, Varly posted his best numbers to date and got robbed of the Vezina due to reasons that aren’t worth rehashing here. Over the next few seasons as the Avs talent level fell off a cliff, Varlamov’s numbers also declined. Last year he struggled through a sub-.900 effort with a groin badly in need of repair and finally threw in the towel mid-season.

It’s debatable whether Allaire was truly a full-time goalie coach. He was not based in Denver and would fly in as needed. I have less of a problem with this than the McLean situation because so much work is done now with video and it’s quite easy for a coach to conference call and present what he needs to without being on site. It’s also more or less pointless for a goalie coach to travel with the team all the time because they rarely practice.

All the Avs goalies struggled horribly in Allaire’s final season which leads me to speculate whether Patrick was more of a goalie coach than we thought. He always denied that he worked in that area and probably wasn’t that technically proficient at doing so. Maybe he was, maybe just having the best goalie of all time motivating you before, during and after games had a profound effect. I think the combined effect of Patrick’s absence and Allaire grinding out the final year of his contract led to major regression.

The Parkkila Era Begins

All this plus Calvin Pickard getting hoovered in the expansion draft leaves the Avs with a whole lot of unknowns going into the season. Jussi Parkkila has to answer the following questions:

  • Is Jussi Parkkila an NHL caliber goalie coach?
  • Are Varly’s health questions in the past?
  • How good is Varly? Is he the guy that tore the league up for one year or is he the league average or worse goalie we’ve seen most of the time he’s been in Colorado?
  • Can new backup Jon Bernier regain some of the form he’s shown at times in the past?
  • If something horrible happens (again) can Spencer Martin deal with playing in the NHL at this point? [hint: he better] Is Spencer Martin the future starter for the Avs? What does Parkkila need to do to get him to that level?
  • San Antonio goalie coach Jan-Ian Filiatrault has worked directly under Francois Allaire for the last 7 years, how will integrating him work?

Along with just about everyone else, the Avs goalies deserve their share of the blame for how awful last season’s debacle was. Letting in three and a half goals per game again is unacceptable and marginal gains won’t cut it. Improving that to three per game would be the absolute minimum and that’s a big ask percentage-wise. Parkkila has a lot of work to do.