Canucks Clark Has Become the NHL’s Goalie Guru

Along with the addition of Brad Shaw, the Vancouver Canucks also made the astute decision to re-sign one of, if not the best goaltending coach in the NHL in Ian Clark last week too. It wasn’t short-term either, as he put pen to paper on a five-year contract, basically matching the same deal starting goaltender Thatcher Demko got in the offseason.

Related: Canucks Defensive Game Will Improve With Shaw Behind the Bench

Over the course of his outstanding career, Clark has developed some of the very best goaltenders in the NHL. Dubbed the “goalie guru”, his tactics and coaching have refined and sometimes reinvented the games of some that looked to have been down and out. From the young, inexperienced rookie to the grizzled veteran, he just seems to know how to unlock the potential buried deep within.

In fact, his influence is so great that these goaltenders take a step back when he is not around to work with them on a daily basis. How great you ask? So great that Sergei Bobrovsky went from an elite Vezina Trophy caliber goaltender to an overpaid, sometimes mediocre one.

Clark’s resume is full of goaltenders that are better with him in their corner. Let’s take a closer look at a few of his star pupils now.

Roberto Luongo (Florida Panthers, Vancouver Canucks)

Ever since Roberto Luongo was drafted fourth overall by the New York Islanders in 1997, he was destined for greatness. He never did it in New York, but eventually became a hall-of-fame worthy goaltender capable of winning games on his own with his package of athleticism, laser quick reflexes and never-say-die attitude.

Clark began his NHL career in 2001 as a goaltending coach in Florida where he got to work with Luongo at the rather young age of 22. He never really got to establish a relationship with the future all-star until 2006 as he joined the Canucks only a season later.

When Clark resumed his duties as Luongo’s main man in 2006, Luongo had solidified himself as one of the NHL’s top workhorse goaltenders. His numbers weren’t out of this world playing behind a spotty defence in Florida, but the foundation was there for the goalie guru to work with.

Luongo went on to have some of his best seasons in Vancouver under the tutelage of Clark. His tour-de-force didn’t come until he was gone, but the immense skyscraper was already complete by then. All Roland Melanson had to do was maintain it. Under the steady hands of Clark, he won 155 games and had a combined goal against average (GAA) and save percentage (SV%) of 2.32 and .917 respectively. He also recorded 24 shutouts.

Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks
Roberto Luongo, seen here with the Vancouver Canucks (JohnBollwitt, Flickr)

After the season that saw Luongo post a career-low 2.11 GAA and lead the Canucks to the Stanley Cup Final, his game started to degrade without Clark. Even though he remained a relatively solid starting goaltender, his GAA and SV% got worse, which opened the door to a goaltending controversy with then-backup Eddie Lack. He was eventually traded back to the Panthers for Markstrom and Shawn Matthias, one of which would become another notch on Clark’s belt a few seasons later.

Sergei Bobrovsky (Columbus Blue Jackets)

Bobrovsky is probably the biggest example of a goaltender that benefited from the presence of Clark. After starting his career with the Philadelphia Flyers and flaming out as yet another potential starting goaltender for them, he was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets for a package of draft picks. It was there that his career took a flight to the stratosphere.

Clark was there for it all as he transformed Bobrovsky into an elite, two-time Vezina Trophy winner and one of the best goaltenders the NHL had to offer. Under his mentorship, “Goalie Bob” won 213 games and posted a 2.41 GAA and .921 SV% alongside 33 shutouts. He also recorded a career-low 2.06 GAA and .931 SV% during the 2016-17 season when he won his second Vezina in five seasons.

Columbus Blue Jackets Sergei Bobrovsky
Under Ian Clark’s tutelage, Sergei Bobrovsky became an elite goaltender with the Blue Jackets (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

Since leaving the school of Clark and the lofty tower of elite goaltenders, Bobrovsky has hit the ground hard. After being a highly touted unrestricted free agent in 2019 and subsequently signing a long and pricey seven-year, $70 million contract with the Panthers, he has come down to earth as a middling starting goaltender. In the two seasons since, he has posted an un-Vezina like 3.10 GAA and .902 SV% and has been outperformed by his backups Chris Driedger and Spencer Knight, both of which have posted better numbers than him. I think it goes without saying, but Bobrovsky probably wishes he would have signed with the Canucks instead.

Jacob Markstrom (Vancouver Canucks)

Even though fans didn’t see immediate results after his acquisition, Markstrom eventually became an MVP for the Canucks under Clark’s leadership and direction. It took a full season in the AHL and a successful trip through waivers before he transformed into the goaltender everyone saw keep the Canucks afloat during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons. Dubbed as one of the best goalie coaches in the world by Markstrom, Clark refined and organized his toolbox and instilled a work ethic that made him one of the top goaltenders in the league.

He’s (Clark) one of the best goalie coaches in the world…To work with him every day, it’s a privilege.

Jacob Markstrom

Behind a spotty defence that gave up a plethora of high danger chances, Markstrom was calm, controlled and most of all, positionally sound almost every night. For the first time since Luongo, the Canucks had a number one goaltender they could rely upon. Unfortunately, like Bobrovsky before him, success meant more money in free agency – money that the Canucks weren’t willing to spend with 25-year-old Thatcher Demko waiting in the wings.

Jacob Markstrom Calgary Flames
Jacob Markstrom, Calgary Flames (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

Unlike Bobrovsky, Markstrom didn’t take a huge step back without Clark in his corner. After signing a six-year contract with the Calgary Flames in the offseason, his numbers stayed relatively consistent from his time in Vancouver. His save percentage went down from .918 to .904, but his GAA improved to 2.66 from 2.75. He also continued to save his team from themselves, as he was the Flames’ best player multiple times during the season. His game may not have changed post-Clark, but he wouldn’t be the goalie he is today without him.

Thatcher Demko (Vancouver Canucks)

The Canucks felt comfortable moving on from Markstrom because of the immense potential of Demko. After his coming-out party during the 2020 playoffs where he posted a stingy 0.64 GAA and .985 SV%, expectations were high going into the 2020-21 season. With his former pupil in Calgary, Clark put his entire focus on the former Boston College star and made quite the impression on him in the process.

Clarkie is, he’s unbelievable…I mean, I owe probably just about everything to him. I don’t speak too much about him in the media, but — obviously, I’m putting in the work — but the way he’s guided me and mentored me, it’s been amazing. I just really hope that they can figure something out, and have him return.

Thatcher Demko on Ian Clark’s influence on his game
Thatcher Demko Vancouver Canucks
Thatcher Demko, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Demko basically credited his development and success as an NHL goaltender to Clark. That’s probably the biggest compliment you can give a coach. Fortunately for him, the Canucks were able to get a deal done with the goalie guru that will keep him in Canucks colours for the foreseeable future. With any luck, Demko will become a Vezina Trophy winner like Bobrovsky and hopefully do something no Clark-trained goaltender has been able to do yet, and that’s win a Stanley Cup.

Mike DiPietro (Vancouver Canucks)

Finally, we have 22-year-old Mike DiPietro, the Canucks’ third-round pick from 2017. Since his NHL debut against the San Jose Sharks that saw him allow seven goals, he has bounced back with a solid season in the AHL with the Utica Comets and has now become one of the top goaltending prospects in the league.

During a trying 2020-21 season where DiPietro spent most of his time on the Canucks’ Taxi Squad, game action was almost non-existent for the 22-year-old. It wasn’t until Apr 30, 2021, over a year since his last game in the AHL, that he actually faced an opponent. Fortunately for him, he was working with Clark almost the entire time.

By the time DiPietro started against the Rochester Americans, he had logged hundreds of hours with Clark refining his craft and most of all, staying fresh. There were concerns about how the year break would affect the Windsor native, but those concerns were quickly alleviated in his first game back. He showed off a more positionally sound approach during that game and the “quiet feet” that every Clark-educated goaltender possesses. He basically looked like DiPietro 2.0, which was surprising, considering he never saw any action for over 400 days.

He has the ability to recognize a goalie and knows goalies don’t play the exact same way. Clarkie has allowed me to still be Michael DiPietro the goaltender who battles and competes, but also in more controlled ways, you know, having better footwork.

Mike DiPietro on Ian Clark’s influence on his game (from ‘Canucks prospect Mike DiPietro’s game, absent games, sees ‘big strides’’, The Province, 5/14/21)

DiPietro was also quick to compliment Clark, just like Demko, Markstrom, Bobrovsky and Luongo before him.

Honestly, I cannot say enough great things about Ian Clark. He has helped my game in a tremendous way, and I know everybody that’s worked with him will say the exact same thing.

With Demko set to be the full-time starter next season and Braden Holtby potentially moving on in a trade or to the Seattle Kraken in the upcoming expansion draft, DiPietro will have a chance to make the team as the Canucks’ backup. If that happens, Clark will have two players that he has developed all the way from the draft table to the NHL. No wonder Demko and DiPietro wanted to keep him around, he’s like their dad!

Keeping Clark in the Fold Was Essential for the Canucks

With how much work Clark has put into both Demko and DiPietro, and how much the two young goaltenders admire and respect him, it was essential for the Canucks to re-sign him. They are the future of the crease and they need the very best leading them.

If the Canucks are going to be Stanley Cup contenders, goaltending has to be an important part of it. Defence and goaltending win championships, and they have two promising netminders ready to be difference makers in that pursuit. As much as they are naturally talented, the science and art of goaltending have evolved over the years. That’s where coaches come in, and the Canucks have a gem signed for the next five years in Ian Clark. With any luck, he will create one of the best tandems in the league, just like he did with Luongo and Cory Schneider back in the glory days.

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