The Nashville Predators have built their franchise around dependable stability, most notably reflected by the ownership’s unquestioned faith in Barry Trotz. However, beyond the spotlight is the only goaltending coach the Predators organization has ever known: Mitch Korn. Korn is the mastermind behind the goaltending factory also known as “Smashville” and is widely regarded as the league’s top goalie coach. He is responsible for working with all Nashville affiliates, including the AHL Milwaukee Admirals and ECHL Cincinatti Cyclones. Now, 15 seasons working under Trotz, we take a look Korn’s track record.
The Mike Dunham Era. Now a goaltending coach himself, Dunham became the first full-time starting netminder in franchise history after being drafted in the 1998 expansion draft. Prior to joining Nashville, Dunham had only played in 41 career NHL games with the New Jersey Devils despite being over eight years removed from his original draft date in 1990. The native New Yorker developed into an average NHL starting goaltender, peaking during the 2000-01 season, posting a 2.28 GAA and .923 SV percentage. After the New York Rangers lost Mike Richter due to a concussion in 2002, Dunham was dealt to his home state – a trade that warranted Rem Murray, Tomas Kloucek and prospect Marek Zidlicky. I’d say that worked out.
The Tomas Vokoun Era. After playing second fiddle to Dunham for four full seasons, Vokoun, also selected in the 1998 expansion draft, evolved into a workhorse under Korn. In Vokoun’s second season as starter, he led the Predators to their first playoff appearance in franchise history and made the 2004 All-Star team. Vokoun remained an elite starting goalie for four seasons under Korn before finally falling out of favor due to a blood condition and a thumb injury. Vokoun’s career accomplishments include making two All-Star teams — 2004, 2008, holding the all-time wins record for Nashville — 161, being a 2010 World Champion and winning the bronze medal at the 2006 Olympic games with the Czech Republic. At this point, Vokoun was Korn’s most successful developmental project to date in an illustrious 17-year coaching career in the NHL.
The Pre-Pekka Rinne Era. Once Vokoun was traded during the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, Chris Mason was named full-time starter after a very impressive season filling in for the injured Czech. Mason had been working with Korn throughout the entirety of his career, bouncing back and forth between Nashville and Milwaukee since the franchise’s inception. However, the Alberta native had a disappointing season and eventually fell out of favor, yielding the starting job to backup Dan Ellis. Ellis, nicknamed “Snowstorm,” led the NHL in save percentage — .924 – in his first season. Where he got that nickname? In March of 2008, rookie netminder Rinne was getting the call from Milwaukee to start over Ellis. However, the youngster’s debut had to be put on hold because of a snowstorm canceling Rinne’s flight, allowing Ellis to display his best performance of the season, a performance that saved his job for the rest of the 2008 season. If only they knew.
The Rinne Era. In the eighth round — 258th overall – of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, David Poile took a flier on an unheard of 6-foot-5 Finnish goalie named Rinne. Tall, scrawny and a bit shy, Rinne would make his way to the United States for the 2005-06 AHL season and began working with new goalie coach Korn. Thanks to that snowstorm, Rinne only made one appearance during the 2007-08 season. Unfortunately for Ellis, the 26-year-old would take the starting job by force in 2008. In only three calendar years, Korn developed him into arguably the greatest goaltender in the world. He’s been a Vezina finalist twice, placed 4th in 2011 Hart Trophy voting and signed a seven-year, $49 million contract. The full story is still unwritten, keep in mind, as we still have six more years of the redundant, “No, that was the best save I’ve ever seen”.
All in all, Nashville has only used a total of twelve goalies in the franchise’s fifteen year existence — four of which have played in two games or less. Once you think about how other organizations recycle goalies, that’s a pretty impressive testament to the hockey minds behind the scenes here. Give credit where credit is due; Korn, we salute you.