Believe it or not, the topic of goaltending came up! Here, Lombardi discusses the need for patience with the young goalies and cautions the questioner not to just focus on Jonathan Bernier. The question was, in part, whether Bernier would be ready for the NHL this season. Lombardi discusses Bernier and Jon Quick and talks about his experiences bringing along young goalies in San Jose.
LOMBARDI: First part, as far as Jon, don’t forget another guy: Quick. I’ve always said this and I’ll say it again. When we were in San Jose, we had three top goaltender prospects in Nabokov, Kiprusoff and Toscala. As prospects, I think we have three of those guys now, who are in that similar age group: Bernier, Quick and Zatkoff. When you’re dealing with young goaltenders, to start making predictions and start putting them in your lineup, you’re only setting them up for failure. As a very smart goaltender person told me in San Jose when we used to sit around and do that… `Well, is Nabokov better than Kiprusoff?’ He said, `Knock it off. Our job is to make them better every day and let them go through the process and let the cream rise to the top.’ You just let them play. The job is to make them better every day.
The thing about goaltending is, it’s the hardest position to play and it’s also the hardest to predict, because so much of that position is mental. There’s nowhere to hide when you’re a goaltender. It’s very similar to pitching. You can have all the athletic ability in the world, but if you’re not strong mentally, you’re going to fail. You can hide as a forward. You can even hide as a defenseman. But you can’t hide from being mentally tough as a goaltender. When you look at goaltenders like Quick and Bernier and these kids, you’re looking to see critical moments and where they’re growing as men. When Jon had to go back to juniors, I drove six hours from Montreal to Maine, to see him in Lewiston. He was the flavor of the month here. But here’s a test for you, Jon. Now go back there and lead that junior team, because you’re not ready right now but you can learn to build that mental toughness. He struggled in the first month. Eventually he figured it out again and he will grow from that experience.
Jon Quick this year in the minors. There’s a critical time when you’re building, and last year was the first year we were really young in the minors. That team found a way to make the playoffs. Jon was a big part of carrying it down the stretch. He had a few bumps in the road but God bless him. When it came down to crunch time, he got it figured out and got that team to the playoffs. Those are the things you look for. To stand around and try to make predictions, I really think you’re just setting the kid up for failure. You’ve just got to let it play out. If he comes in and he’s ready, great, but he has to be ready the right way. It’s not to be the best of the lot. It’s to be ready and be ready to be a bonafide number one.
Like I said, if you hit on one of the three, sing `hallelujah.’ In San Jose, we hit on all three. That’s unheard of. I’d like to say we were really smart, but we were very lucky. I’ll take one of those three, and that’s the way we approached it in San Jose. Let’s work with each one of them and then let the best one rise to the top.