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Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

What to expect from Curtis Sanford as the Leafs goaltending coach

Earlier today the Leafs made it official that Curtis Sanford would indeed be the Leafs goaltending coach. That’s good news in the sense that having a goaltending coach in place prior to the draft and free agency is going to help a lot. That is a voice you want in the room as you overhaul an important position, and at least from what Canucks Army shared about Sanford today, he’s used to being involved in those conversations:

Sanford was instrumental in identifying Spencer Martin as a trade target for the Canucks while watching him play with the Syracuse Crunch, and later, in developing Martin from a third-string AHL goaltender into an NHL backup.

That’s what you want to see. A coach that sees the talent that he can develop. The catch for Sanford in his new role will be at the NHL level the talent is going to be less raw and will be more about refinements while winning rather than an AHL situation which will prioritize development over wins.

During his time in Utica and Abbotsford, there was certainly some overlap time with Thatcher Demko, which is also some development work that Sanford can hang his hat on. Sanford came in after Demko was selected and work was already underway on the development before Sanford showed up, but anytime you see a top tier goaltender with your goalie coach’s fingerprints on them, you have to feel a bit optimistic, right?

Sanford has also been working a lot with the next promising Canucks goalie prospect, Michael DiPietro, and that could lead to speculation about the Leafs having interest there somewhere down the road.

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The fact that Sanford was working with Ian Clark who can take a lot of the credit for Demko, Markstrom, and others is a huge win for the Leafs. David Quadrelli of Canucks Army wrote about the goaltending coaching tandem last year and has some insights from Sanford:

“Communication is massive,” said Sanford. “It doesn’t even matter what position we’re talking about. Forwards, defence, and goaltending, I think it’s always important to have really good communication from the coaches down to the development coaches and to the players. It has to really be open, and I think once we leave training camps and development camps, we have a pretty good idea of a pathway for these players from the start of the season, to the end of the season. It’s just kind of continually monitoring, evaluating, and communicating what those expectations are going to be and how we’re going to achieve them.”

Sanford, himself is a student of Ian Clark and bought into the teachings even before mirroring them as a coach:

“Ian was probably the most influential goalie coach that I had in my career,” added Sanford. “I had him in Vancouver, and I didn’t play a whole lot but the time I spent with Ian that year and a half in Vancouver I started to understand how to play the position a lot better. And then I was able to kind of take that onward with me and then we kind of reunited there in Columbus… He is extremely influential and I think he’s one of the best there is in the game. I’ve got a great deal of respect for him.”

So given Sanford’s impressive mentorship program which saw him work with the coach responsible for much the Canucks and Blue Jackets goaltending success should be a great sign for the Leafs.

Another thing of note when it comes to Sanford is his experience of playing three seasons in Russia. If and when the Leafs are planning on bringing over Akhtyamov and Peksa, having a goaltender familiar with Russian goaltending coaching methods and playing hockey in Russia in general hopefully eases the transition to North America and helps Toronto get the most out of these prospects.

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The fact that Sanford stands just 5’11 is also a sign that the Leafs might begin looking at some short kings in net again. While goaltenders tend to be at least 6’2″ most of the time, Sanford has the practical experience to work with smaller goaltenders who inevitably get told they get beaten high too often.

We’ll see how the full story unravels with Sanford soon, as well as if Hannu Toivonen remains the goalie coach with the Marlies and Marek Benda with the Growlers or if we see an expansion of the goaltending department. Sanford will have a busy first couple of weeks on the job presumably helping the Leafs identify who they need to look at in free agency, on the trade market and if there is a goaltender who stands out to Sanford in the draft.

This is just the beginning of a long goaltending conversation that at least is starting with a promising goaltending coach.

In related news, Steve Briere was hired by the Seattle Kraken today.

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