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How Ian Clark’s remote lessons with Aku Koskenvuo are already paying off immensely

Unless you’ve been in a coma since early March of 2020, you’ve likely used a video meeting software, such as Zoom.

These applications skyrocketed in popularity as a result of the pandemic, and became a safe house for classrooms, workplaces, poker nights, and just about everything in between.

They also help Vancouver Canucks goaltending coach Ian Clark speak and work with prospects, such as Aku Koskenvuo.

The Canucks drafted Koskenvuo in the fifth round of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, and Clark pulled back the curtain a bit on why the Canucks were so excited to draft the goaltender who many teams were turned off by after a lacklustre performance at the U18’s in April.

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“For me, I’m a big believer when it comes to scouting in evaluating the intangibles when it comes to goaltenders,” Clark said in an exclusive interview with CanucksArmy. “Technique and structure and all those types of things are very tangible. Those are things we can kind of do with our eyes closed. They’re very tangible and very blueprint-y.”

“I say this, and I probably shouldn’t, but I say that we can teach a goaltender technique in a weekend,” Clark said with a laugh. “So for me, those things really don’t register for me when I’m evaluating a goalie. What I’m really looking at is the intangible things that I know through my history in the game are much more difficult to teach through nurture. When I look at Aku, I look at a goaltender that may be a little bit raw, a little bit green with some of the structural stuff, you know, there’s some blemishes there that we can easily transform and reorganize in his game, but some of those other areas which are much harder, he has in spades.”

Clark is right. Koskenvuo struggled at numerous points and looked like an overall technically flawed goaltender at the U18’s.

His stance featured his glove hand off to his side rather than out in front, activated, and while his lateral movement and explosiveness were impressive, he really wasn’t reading the play as well as you’d hope an NHL drafted goaltender would.

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So you can understand why people started asking questions when Koskenvuo started his season in the U20 Finnish league with three straight wins and two shutouts.

On top of that, Koskenvuo didn’t allow a single goal in the two games he played in for Finland at the U20 Four Nations Tournament — which included one start against a strong Russian team where the young netminder faced 35 total shots.

In case it isn’t making sense yet, this all means that Koskenvuo has four shutouts and five wins through five starts since being drafted by the Canucks.

That isn’t just a coincidence, either.

Prior to the Four Nations Tournament, Clark and Koskenvuo had two film sessions where new concepts were introduced to the young goaltender.

“I’ve yet to really dig in on his game, so it was more so a process of introducing sort of broad concepts,” Clark told CanucksArmy. “In the remote learning world, the idea is that you’re supporting that with some text and some video examples. Rather than digging in and picking apart his game, it was more so introducing ideas that perhaps he has not been introduced to yet.”

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The most noticeable thing about Koskenvuo’s game after the meetings is that he looks like he’s reading the play better and moving more efficiently.

“We were just talking about goaltending in general,” said Koskenvuo. “We had a couple of meetings on what I should do pre-shot, how I should prepare for the shot, what I should do after the shot, the correct ways to move, and what techniques to use at different times.”

“It was nothing too specific, but definitely good stuff that I’ve already managed to implement into my game, and I definitely think I’ve improved.”

Koskenvuo said he had already heard some of the concepts Clark was teaching him from past goalie coaches, but the Canucks’ goaltending coach’s trademark ability to explain why he’s teaching these concepts made them easier to grasp for Koskenvuo.

“Ian’s pretty good at explaining stuff,” said Koskenvuo. “Just reading the game and trusting that you have time to look at centre when the puck is in the corner for example. Even though it might feel like you don’t, you actually have a lot of time. That was something I tried in my next practice after the call and I’m really liking in my game already.”

“I realized how important reading and anticipating the play is, because if you’re constantly behind the puck, you might not technically be a worse goalie, but you’re always chasing the game.”

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Telling a goaltender what to do is fine, but telling them exactly why they should be doing things differently is often the difference maker between them really embracing the changes, according to Clark.

“That’s vital to the process for a couple of reasons,” said Clark. “First of all, I always tell every goaltender, you are your own best goalie coach, and if they are going to be in command of their game, they must have a base of knowledge to command that game. I always joke with goalies that I’m just the assistant, you’re the head goalie coach of your game, only you are there in every moment.”

“The other reason is if you do not explain it to them, they’re not going to follow that path. It’s almost like they’re going down a dark alleyway. They’re going to be hesitant, they’re going to perhaps take a couple steps down that dark alley, but if things don’t work out for them, they turn and go back to what they know. But if they have a strong understanding of what they’re pursuing, it’s much easier for them to stay on the road to get to the other side.”

At 18 years old, with so much hockey in front of him, Koskenvuo is in the same dark alleyway as a lot of young goaltenders. Clark is trying to show him the light at the end of it, and thus far he hasn’t strayed.