Pens hire Bales as goaltender coach
Marc-Andre Fleury's career could come to a crossroads during the 2013-14 season.
The Penguins have hired the man they believe can get the goaltender back on track.
Mike Bales, who developed goalies in the Penguins' system during the past two seasons, was added to coach Dan Bylsma's staff Monday.
Bales, 42, beat out five other candidates, including former Penguins goalie Brent Johnson and Swedish goaltender coach Erik Granqvist.
“I like the knowledge that Mike brings,” Bylsma said. “He's a student of the game. He brings a great blend of the technical and mental sides of being a goaltender.”
It's the mental side that will be closely evaluated in regard to Fleury.
Fleury, 28, has been to the top of the mountain — he's been the No. 1 overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft, produced terrific regular-season numbers and won a Stanley Cup — and also has sustained an unusual amount of breakdowns in big games, which culminated in his benching last postseason.
Fleury is seeing a sports psychologist this summer, and Bylsma acknowledged that Fleury's mental approach must improve. But he still is the Penguins' No. 1 goaltender.
“We all believe in Marc,” Bylsma said. “The mental part is an aspect for Marc and for our team. We know he's a great goalie. He's got great physical attributes. That's a real strength for him. Marc has shown he can win a lot of hockey games. He can be that goalie. But I think the mental toughness, the mental approach, the mental side of the game is something that needs to be a focus, and not just in April.”
He spent most of an 18-year career in the minor leagues and playing in Europe, though he does have 23 NHL games to his credit.
What are his plans for Fleury?
“I haven't really had time to develop a relationship with him yet,” Bales said. “But I can tell you that developing a relationship with Marc and Tomas (Vokoun) is my top priority right now.”
Bylsma isn't a coach that stays away from coaching goaltenders completely, but he made it clear Bales will play a vital role with Fleury.
“I will play a role,” Bylsma said, “just as I do with the penalty kill or the power play. But the goaltender coach definitely plays the biggest role in a goaltender's foundation.”
Bylsma spoke with Fleury and Vokoun following the season about a new goaltender coach, given that the team was already aware of former goaltender coach Gilles Meloche's plan to resign.
However, Bylsma said Fleury and Vokoun “weren't included” in the search.
Bales will mix old-school work ethic with new-age resources.
“I certainly appreciate the opportunity,” Bales said.
And he realizes that resurrecting Fleury's career is paramount.
“I can't wait to get to know him better,” Bales said. “We will work together, and we will develop a relationship. It's something that can't be forced. It has to come naturally. And it will.”