The Checkers entered this season with a revamped coaching staff, bringing on a dedicated video coach and skills coach to join bench bosses Ulf Samuelsson and Peter Andersson.
There is one more piece to the coaching puzzle, however, and it’s a name that NHL fans are sure to familiar with.
Curtis Joseph carved out a formidable career through the 1990s and 2000s, backstopping for 19 seasons and finishing his career as the fourth winningest goalie in NHL history.
Since hanging up his skates after the 2008-09 campaign, though, Joseph had been fairly off the radar, putting his focus on his personal life.
“I’ve been out of the game for eight and a half, nine years raising my family and making sure they get to college,” said Joseph.
But this summer, opportunity came knocking for the 49-year-old.
“[Carolina scout] Joe Nieuwendyk is a friend of mine and he put me in touch with [Carolina GM] Ron Francis and he gave me the opportunity to get back in the game,” said Joseph. “It seemed like the right fit for me and it was a chance to give some knowledge and give back to the game that’s been so good to me.”
The move reunited the former netminder with Samuelsson, who was an assistant coach for the Phoenix Coyotes in 2006-07 with Joseph between the pipes.
“I knew his character and his knowledge of the game,” said Samuelsson of Joseph. “He hasn’t really been involved before, so this is a good opportunity to see if he likes it.”
As a goaltending consultant with the Hurricanes, Joseph’s main priority is working the Checkers netminders, an opportunity they are relishing.
“You can see how excited the goalies are, they finally get to talk goalie language to someone here,” said Samuelsson after Tuesday’s practice. “They’re all over him all practice. We’re all very excited that he’s here.”
“They both have great minds for the game, so it’s actually fun for me to be able to talk about the game, what they’re feeling, what happened last night, how the goals went in,” said Joseph. “It’s great feedback back and forth, I love talking to these guys.”
He enters a unique situation in Charlotte, with an established veteran in Michael Leighton on one side and a highly touted prospect in Alex Nedeljkovic on the other.
“It’s a great set up for us, with Leighton being a little older and more experienced,” said Joseph. “He’s been around and he’s great with Ned. Alex is learning as he goes.”
With much of his focus on aiding in the development of Nedeljkovic, Joseph is working on helping the young netminder navigate the jump from juniors to the pros.
“I would say that’s the biggest adjustment is the speed of the game,” said Joseph. “The more games you play, the more you practice at a high tempo, the more the game will slow down and you’ll see it. At first, the speed of the game, the skill of the players, how the puck moves, you may be a touch behind in your thinking.”
Physically, Nedeljkovic’s size gets brought up periodically, as he tends to fall on the smaller side of the spectrum. While that notion is a sign of the evolving nature of the position, Joseph, who was listed at 5’11” as a player, has some tips on combating that as well.
“I guess six feet is undersized as a goaltender these days,” said Joseph with a laugh. “He has to challenge a bit more than a bigger guy, but he has that athletic ability to recover if he is challenging. He knows that, he’s no stranger to that. He’s been incredibly successful at the junior level and on the world stage, so there’s no reason to believe that once he gets some experience under his belt and he catches up to the speed that he won’t be successful at this level.”
Nedeljkovic has had a bit of a bumpy start to his rookie year, but having someone with Joseph’s pedigree in your corner is just the type of help needed to navigate those enforcements.
“[After games] we just talk about it then we move on and talk about the next game, who we have to face and focus on what we have to do to win that game,” said Joseph. “We head in a positive direction. Always think forward. Never think back. He understands that.
“Alex is a very solid individual. He doesn’t get too high, doesn’t get too low. He’s got the right personality to be successful in this league.”