By Jason Pearson | AHL On The Beat Archive
In his first professional season, Grand Rapids Griffins goaltender Jared Coreau had just a single win. That’s total, over a span of 25 games between the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye and the Griffins.
Year two witnessed a 20-game spike in the ‘W’ column leading to 21 victories, again while splitting time between Toledo and Grand Rapids.
Now, in his third pro season, Coreau has already logged 27 wins with no signs of slowing down. His resume also shows an AHL goaltender of the month award for December (2015), an 11-game winning streak (Nov. 18-Dec. 26), a top-five ranking in every prominent AHL goaltending category, and a brief call up to the Detroit Red Wings.
Winning has become a way of life for Coreau, evidenced not just on the ice but also mentally. But it wasn’t always this way.
Mired in a nightmarish dawning to his professional career, the 6-foot-6 goaltender knew he needed to adapt both his staminal physique and his mindset if he was to continue playing the game that’s been a staple in his life since the age of seven.
Inked to an entry-level contract by Detroit in April 2013 after playing three years in the Upper Peninsula at Northern Michigan, Coreau made his initial start of the 2013-14 campaign with Grand Rapids before spending the majority of his season in Toledo. His lone win of the year came for the Walleye when he backstopped 42 saves just before the Thanksgiving holiday.
In all, Coreau would suit up in 20 games for Toledo and five for Grand Rapids, tallying one win and a combined goals against average of 4.08. Despite a rough go of things, he continued to push as the season wore on, finishing off the last five games in Toledo with a mended 2.94 GAA and a respectable 0.916 save percentage.
“I searched for an answer or answers about that year for a long time,” he recalled.
It did not take Coreau long to figure out where improvements needed to be made. One foible he notes is that he often felt physically drained heading into third periods.
During a healthy offseason prior to the 2014-15 campaign, he beefed up his endurance training, changed his diet and trainer, got on the ice more, and indefatigably fine-tuned the exquisite details of functioning between the pipes.
But it was a shift in mindset that was of utmost importance for Coreau.
“I was going into games my first year, and I actually think I had this mentality even in college, where I said to myself ‘as long as I play well, it doesn’t matter if we win or lose; as long as I play well and the guys see that.’ But at the end of the day, the most important thing for goalies is win percentage and save percentage,” Coreau said. “A team wants a goalie that’s going to win no matter what. That was something I had to learn.”
Coreau spent that summer with three simple letters seared into his daily life.
“Every day, I would say to myself the word ‘win,’” he said. “I would visualize winning all the time. You have to become a winner and you have to find a way. You have to look in the mirror and you have to decide what you want to do. Mentally, I was coming into my second season as a pro and I was like ‘I want to win, win, win.’”
Coreau’s vision soon came to fruition on the ice, as he earned his first AHL win in a 35-save performance during the Griffins’ 6-1 victory at Adirondack on Nov. 29, 2014. From there proceeded the avalanche of wins. In fact, his second season began with six consecutive victories, a feat that did not totally shock him, although he offers a humbled but self-sure disclaimer.
“I knew the work I put in, I knew the changes I made and I knew what it took to be a winner so my confidence was actually pretty high,” Coreau said. “That’s what confidence is to me, confidence is the hours and days and weeks and months you put in to becoming better.”
Year two culminated in Coreau contributing 16 wins for Grand Rapids and five for Toledo. While the successes were encouraging, work remained for him last offseason.
He went back for a second summer of vision training at Dynamic Edge, located about 45 minutes from his hometown of Perth, Ontario. Looking at a large light board, Coreau had to hit lights as they flashed, emphasizing reaction time and peripheral training.
“When I started doing that, my game took off,” he said. “My hand-eye coordination and tracking pucks into my body just became so much easier.”
Coreau or “Rozie” – a nickname that originated with Northern Michigan teammate Brian Nugent – entered the first summer at Dynamic Edge with a reaction time around 0.67 seconds. By the time he was ready for the start of the 2014-15 season, his time was trimmed to 0.30. Now, during this past offseason, Coreau was training with 0.30 millisecond reaction times, meaning he had to hit the lights under that time frame, a task he completed just about 50-percent of the time.
As the cliché goes, hard work pays off, and that holds true for Coreau in his third season, translating his efforts and abilities into a top-five goaltender. He embarked on an 11-game winning streak, keying the Griffins on their franchise-record 15-game winning streak. Coreau earned AHL honors as goaltender of the month for December after posting a 9-2-0 record and a 0.938 save percentage.
“It’s times like that in your career you just have to be happy for yourself and reward yourself, but don’t get too high,” Coreau says of the league’s recognition. “It makes you want to earn another goalie of the month.”
As almost a sort of validation for his offseason work and vastly improved fitness level, Coreau started 15 consecutive games from Dec. 9-Jan. 12 while creasemate Tom McCollum was sidelined with an injury.
“Really the true test over that stretch wasn’t physically, it was more mental,” he says. “How I prepare for games is maybe a little too strenuous on the brain but it’s what I have to do. It was fun playing all those games. Your game calms down because you see so much so often that really you become better and better every game you play.”
Speaking of pregame preparations, the self-described “neat, tidy and orderly” Coreau has incorporated the prophetic winning thoughts into his already itemized and specific routine prior to games.
“I stand out on the bench before warmups and I visualize plays that could happen or plays that have happened and how I would play them better,” he explains. “I visualize the word win in my head over and over and over. I say it to myself. You can’t hear it out on the ice, but I’m basically yelling it to myself.”
The exponential path Coreau’s career trajectory has taken certainly has him excited for the future prospect of playing in the NHL. He earned a brief taste of the next logical step when he served as a backup in the Red Wings’ overtime win against Dallas on Feb. 29.
However, he remains committed to the day-to-day process of improvement – often writing down areas for growth he would like to further develop with goaltending development coach Jeff Salajko – and doing everything he can to win for Grand Rapids.
The pregame focus, the victory visualizations, the on- and off-ice work and the on-ice results have correlated into a winning goaltender, a tremendous transformation in just three short years.