Longevity in sport seems underrated at times. There's always a philosophical argument whether a player who's been just very good for several years is better than a player who was one of the greats for a short period. Good fortune with respect to health and their team situation can make the difference between someone who is around for over ten seasons and someone who gets a handful of games. Greatness requires more than just being there. Yet, in sport, being there is an impressive feat on it's own. There is constant turnover within the various leagues among players, coaches, and members of management. Being in one place for a long time either means you have an "in" somewhere or you've justified your value to an organization to a point where they want around as long as possible. Jacques Caron, the longtime goaltending coach of the New Jersey Devils, falls into the latter category. And so he will be honored for his tenure with the Devils tonight prior to the game against Montreal at the Rock.
That tenure is a long one. He joined the Devils in 1993 to replace Warren Strelow. He would have two goalies to directly work with: Chris Terreri and some rookie named Martin Brodeur. According to this article by Rich Chere at NJ.com about Caron, Lou insisted it was just great timing and it really was. Caron was a long-time member of the Hartford organization. He was their goaltending coach prior to joining the Devils as Chere noted. He was the veteran; the known quantity. It just so happened that the Devils' first-round pick in 1990 was coming up at that time. It was the start of a beautiful and successful relationship. And so Caron has been a part of the staff until Terreri took over the main duties in New Jersey in recent seasons and went into semi-retirement.
The biggest sign of how highly the Devils think of Caron is the fact that he's getting honored before a game at all. We've seen players get honored for milestones before games. There have been nights devoted to Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko, and Scott Niedermayer when their numbers were retired. The team thought so much of Doc, Mike Emrick, as the team's play-by-play announcer that they honored him prior to a game - and he wasn't even a team employee. So for a position coach to get public recognition, he had to have been rather good.
He'll be namely known for his work with Brodeur. Brodeur clearly respects Caron highly. Martin Brodeur's official website has an interview with Caron by Benoit Philie. Caron noted what he did with Brodeur both early in his career and regularly. He constantly did video sessions with Brodeur to show what he did right and wrong. He acted as a support figure to keep his mind right. I wouldn't be surprised if he's a reason why he seems so calm and composed in net. He worked on his mobility early, which is surprising to read now since he still does amazing moves at times to deny shots seemingly out of his reach. I'm sure he helped Brodeur turn into the hybrid-style goaltender that broke him away from his compatriots, who relied on the butterfly stance. This more recent article by Chere at NJ.com confirms much of this from Brodeur's end. This quote by the legendary goaltender is especially telling:
"For him it was just to support me. I was probably telling him before he told me. In between periods he was a coach I was really involved with. He would come down (to the dressing room) and if anything happened or if guys had any tendencies he'd say, 'Be careful, this is what they're trying to do.' He helped me out just being there with me. I couldn't ask for a better person to help me out along the way."
While position coaches work on the nuances and technical aspects of the game, the human factor really does seem important. With at least ten coaching changes and all kinds of different personnel, it takes a really good communicator to handle all of the different personalities and try to get work done with everyone. Brodeur may have been there also as well, but in a way, that makes him a bigger challenge to deal with. How do you keep his interest? How do you make sure your message gets through? It takes skill to make sure a successful veteran doesn't tune out the coach; Caron clearly had it. I'm sure the video helped too.
Brodeur wasn't the only one. I don't think it's a surprise that Terreri, the other goalie in New Jersey he initially worked with when hired, followed Caron's footsteps as a coach. At the end of Chere's article, Brodeur compares his former teammate to Caron. That's some high praise. You can bet that Terreri would have similar praise about the longtime coach. But one of the more interesting reactions came from Jeff Frazee. Frazee has spent most of his pro career in the AHL and so he wasn't with Caron on a regular basis. He did, I believe, work with Terreri before he moved up to New Jersey. Yet, Caron even speaks with him on a regular basis to this day to discuss how he can improve. That's why he too has praise for the coach's communication skills in the end of this Fire & Ice post by Tom Gulitti. I was particularly impressed by that given that Caron's not present with the other coaches and in a semi-retired state. That he's been keeping up and giving pointers to the goalies in the minor leagues is proof he takes a close interest at everyone even though he doesn't really have to anymore.
The thing about Caron is that while he was a experienced in the ways of coaching with the Hartford organization, he didn't have a storied career as a player. Look at his career stats at Hockey-Reference. He played 72 games in the NHL and 24 in the WHA. Caron played far more in the minors of the 1960s and 1970s: the American Hockey League, the Western Hockey League, and the North American Hockey League. While he hails from Noranda, Quebec, he came out of the Ontario juniors with the Petersboro Petes. Caron certainly had a long professional career and he hit his peak in 1971-72 with St. Louis with a 14-8 record, a 2.52 GAA (save percentage wasn't available then), and nine playoff appearances (4-5, 3.13 GAA). But even then, he wasn't the #1, just a backup in the top league. Caron plied his trade in a past era in hockey and so beyond his going into coaching, there was not a whole lot of information about him, how he became the coach he is, and so forth. Clearly, he has found more success in the NHL as a coach. The recent articles has helped fill in the blanks about Caron's impact. Tonight should provide an additional window to the fans so they can see someone the players and other management really appreciate that does most of his work behind the scenes.
But if we recognize just how long he's been with the organization, we can get a sense of it. Even though Lou has fired all kinds of coaches for all kinds of reasons, Jacques Caron has remained on staff since the summer of 1993. The game has changed quite a bit since the early 1990s, he's a goaltender from a far different era, and yet he has remained relevant to the goaltenders he's coached. He's handled Brodeur throughout his career and didn't lose his attention when Brodeur became experienced and received accolades. He still paid the necessary attention to the other goaltenders; including his replacement. Given all that changes from year to year with the Devils much less in all of sport, Jacques Caron has been one of the few constants. The longevity alone what makes him special; thus, he will be honored tonight. Let us applaud and congratulate him appropriately this evening at his ceremony, which will begin at 7 PM EST.