When you ask someone who competed as an athlete to describe a mentor, a coach is typically among the first responses. There are many different types of coaches in the world, some great and some bad, but a coach almost always leaves some kind of imprint on each athlete they work with. As a lifelong hockey player who was fortunate to achieve and play at the highest level for a period of time, I could not have reached my potential without the dedication and hard work of a number of my coaches along the way. Now, the logical jumping point right now for many readers would be to think of Herb Brooks alone as the single coach responsible for the 1980 Miracle on Ice team. Of course, Herb deserves all of the credit he receives as the architect and the mastermind behind our success in 1980. But perhaps the most important principle that Herb Brooks brought to U.S.A. Hockey prior to 1980 was that it was about finding the RIGHT team, not the “best one.” That obviously included all of the players whom he picked to represent our country at the Olympics, but just as integral were the coaches Herb assembled to lead us at his side. This Mentor Series will highlight someone on the coaching staff who often served as the glue to keep us together, especially myself, as we pushed ourselves towards a shared dream. This month’s Mentor Series will focus on the goalie coach who helped shape me into the best goalie I could be, Warren Strelow.
When I met Warren Strelow for the first time, we almost instantly clicked because it was evident that we were both genuine students of the game. What impressed me the most about Coach Strelow was the depth of knowledge that he not only had about goaltending but also about my game as a goaltender. A pitfall for many coaches is the desire focus on molding athletes into what the coach wants them to be, rather than molding them into the best version of them that the athlete can be. Warren Strelow predicated his coaching on that notion of understanding each of his goalies’ respective games and then working on drills and techniques that enhanced the best aspects of our game. Of course, that isn’t to say that we only worked on what we were good at and neglected any weaknesses. The overall point, though, is that I was an athletic and instinctive goaltender by nature, so Coach Strelow used drills that helped me to be more athletic in the crease rather than to become mechanical. I became the best goaltender I could be because we worked hard to make my strengths stronger while also improving some weaknesses. I owe Warren Strelow and his coaching style an immense amount for preparing me to fight off the barrage of shots from the Soviet team enough so that our offense could win the game down at the other end.
After our Olympic win in 1980, the NHL took notice of the great work of Warren Strelow and he became the NHL’s first full-time goaltending coach for the Washington Capitals in 1983. He was able to develop a number of great goaltenders over the years, including a young Martin Brodeur, Miika Kiprusoff, and Evgeni Nabokov, to name a few. Whenever any of his protégés were asked, they all pointed to Coach Strelow’s overall preparation, innovative and personal teaching techniques, as well as a “fatherly” presence in which a trust was developed between player and coach. It was no surprise to me that Warren Strelow had such a major impact in the NHL as he did for our Olympic team and for my personal success. He truly had the gift and the passion for the game and he made sure to spread his wealth of knowledge as much as possible throughout his career and life. Sadly, Warren Strelow passed away in 2007 at the age of 73 after a long battle with illnesses. While he is no longer with us physically, his legacy lives on to this day in the many goalies he has mentored along the way who now seek to continue spreading his teachings, as well as through U.S.A. Hockey’s Warren Strelow National Goaltending Mentor Program. The Strelow Mentor program provides a place for the development of the brightest young goaltending talents in America, and it couldn’t be named after a better person and coach.
After spending the majority of this piece describing just the sports aspect of Warren Strelow’s impact on my life and career, I would be remiss if I did not describe how many of his principles apply readily to the business world as well. I personally make a point to focus my efforts on understanding the business of any prospective or new clients inside and out so that I can provide a service and/or message that best moves towards the client’s goals, which in turn become a shared goal of mine. This type of personal touch builds a trusting relationship between myself the client, much like I had with Warren Strelow when he was my coach, and often leads to the best collaborative work setting. That is just one of many principles that I learned from Warren Strelow that has helped me to succeed to my utmost potential both on and off the ice. I look forward to continuing on as one of the many who carry on Coach Strelow’s legacy into the future.