From behind the mask to behind the bench

by Maggie Walters || AHL On The Beat Archive 

Karl Goehring earned a number of prestigious titles during his professional career with the Syracuse Crunch. He’s the franchise leader in games played by a goaltender (177), is tied for the most shutouts all-time (11) and his 78 wins make him the winningest netminder in club history.

This past off-season, he added another title to his hockey resume: assistant coach.

Goehring put an end to his playing days in favor of pursuing a coaching opportunity after the 2008-09 season. He always knew when he was done playing that he wanted to pursue coaching, and when Columbus offered him a position in Syracuse, Goehring said the chance was too good to pass up.

“I was really excited to take it,” said Goehring. “Syracuse had become a second home during my pro career and it was a great option to come back to a town I was familiar with.”

Goehring had plenty of time to become familiar with the Salt City during his five seasons with the Crunch. After signing with Columbus as a free agent in 2001, he played four consecutive campaigns from 2001-05 between the pipes for the club before leaving in 2005 via free agency.

From 2005-2007, the Apple Valley, Minn., native made AHL stops in San Antonio, Milwaukee, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Norfolk and had a brief stint with Jokerit Helsinki (Finland) before returning to the Crunch after being signed to a tryout contract in December of 2007.

He helped the Crunch go on a record-setting 15-game winning streak that propelled the club to a second-place finish in the North Division and gain home-ice in its first-round playoff match-up with Manitoba. Goehring was nothing short of spectacular in that series, winning all four games in overtime while putting up a 1.93 goals-against average and .929 save percentage to help Syracuse reach the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2001-02.

His play in that series helped earn him a contract to then go play for the Moose before being traded to San Antonio during the 2008-09 campaign.

When Columbus announced the decision to bring Goehring on as an assistant coach this past July, it was met with much excitement from the Syracuse fan base. In addition to being one of the most successful players, he is also among the most popular Crunch alumni in franchise history.

“I can’t speak on behalf of the fans,” said Goehring when asked about his popularity as a player. “As a player I always tried to bring my best every day and work as hard as I could and be accountable for myself. I don’t know if any of those things resonated with the people but that was my niche.”

This attitude not only made him popular among the Crunch fans but it also earned him the respect of his teammates in the locker room. The work ethic that made Goehring so admired as a player carried over into his new role as a coach.

“He’s always really prepared and always works extremely hard,” said current Crunch netminder Dan LaCosta. “I learned a lot playing with him and I’m also learning a lot from him as coach. He’s doing his best to bring Kevin (Lalande) and I to the next level.”

As the franchise leader in wins, it’s obvious Goehring has a wealth of knowledge to share with LaCosta and Lalande, but he is also using his experience between the pipes to help players in other positions as well. He uses his unique perspective as a former goalie to help the defensemen be more effective and the forwards more opportunistic.

“I’m looking at a standpoint of what I have to offer as a goalie,” said Goehring. “If I’m working with a forward I’m thinking if I’m in goal what don’t I want the guy to do to score? The same with defense, I’m thinking about what I want the guys in front of me doing to make sure the opponents aren’t getting any offense.”

Having played 278 games in the AHL, Goehring has a lot of experience and wisdom to pass on to his players. There are a small number of players on this year’s Crunch squad that he played alongside during his final year as a member of the team in 2007-08. LaCosta has gotten to know Goehring as both a teammate and a coach and admires his professionalism in both capacities.

“He’s the same as a coach as he was as a player,” said LaCosta. “He’s very thorough, very professional and very passionate about hockey.”

Goehring not only had prior relationships with some of the players, but he has also known head coach Ross Yates for many years. Goehring played 177 games in a Crunch uniform, and Yates served as either an assistant or head coach for all of them. Goehring also played with and was coached by Crunch assistant coach Trent Cull. Prior relationships with the coaching staff certainly helped ease Goehring’s transition into his new role.

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“I’ve had Ross as a coach for so long and then having played with Trent as well, it was kind of a seamless transition,” said Goehring. “I think we had pretty good working relationships going into it.”

Yates said he wasn’t surprised that Goehring decided to pursue coaching after his playing career was over. He also noted that Goehring had a desire to stay involved in the game and that so far his transition has gone very smoothly.

“Karl’s really excelling at his teaching in his area of expertise, but he’s also been getting involved in other aspects of coaching and doing a great job,” said Yates. “As a goalie you see everything going on in front of you, having that perspective and his amount of experience is a great combination.”

Although being familiar with the organization made Goehring’s transition a bit smoother, there are still some parts of the new job that Goehring had to adjust to, like the amount of detail that goes into being a coach.

“As a player you are really fortunate you show up, practice and play and have a lot of fun in doing so,” said Goehring. “As a coach there are a lot of other details to take care of.”

As a first year assistant coach, one of Goehring’s main responsibilities is organizing a goalie session prior to each practice.

“I take the goalies out early and prepare what I’m going to do with them and what they need to work on,” said Goehring. “I’m also responsible for designing a team shooting drill against the goalies.”

Goehring also spends a lot of time pre-scouting and watching film, which he says is helpful in breaking him into being a regular coach and not just specializing with the goaltenders. He spends the first two periods of each game in the press box before joining Yates and Cull behind the bench for the third. Watching from the press box allows Goehring to bring a unique perspective with him to the bench for the third period.

“He sees things that we sometimes miss on the bench,” said Yates. “From the press box he’s able to see everything and his observations are extremely helpful.”

Goehring attributes part of his coaching success to having great coaches to model himself after throughout his hockey career.

“All my coaches, from high school, college and into the pros have been great in one aspect or another,” stated Goehring.

“I’ve tried to take bits and pieces from all my past coaches and fuse them into who I am as a coach,” said Goehring. “I had great high school coaches, great college coaches as well as great coaches on a professional level and I’ve tried to learn from all of them along the way.”

By combining the influences of his past coaches and his own professional experience, Goehring hopes to become a coach who leaves a good impression on his players.

“The biggest thing is trying to make a difference in someone’s life,” said Goehring. “If you can impact a player in a positive way and try to make them a better player and person, that’s primarily what I look to do. I’m really happy to be able to be so involved in the game still as a coach, I hope I learn enough and can become established enough to become a head coach somewhere.”

Goehring is certainly off to a good start with the Crunch and if he studies coaching with the same determination and dedication that he studied the game with as a player, there is no doubt that one day “Head Coach” Karl Goehring will be among his list of many accomplishments.