Les Canadiennes Appoint New Interim Goalie Coach
Nicolas Champagne Set To Reunite With Emerance Maschmeyer
Nicolas Champagne always dreamed of one day landing a job as goaltending coach with a professional hockey team.
After 21 years rising the ranks from coaching youngsters with Hockey Laval, up to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and his current job working with university and collegiate level goaltenders, he finally achieved his goal.
“Being with a team that just won a championship is always motivating. You come to the rink with a big smile. You walk faster, you just want to get there,” said Champagne before a recent late-night practice session at Aréna Michel-Normandin.
Les Canadiennes de Montréal officially announced the arrival of Champagne to the team’s coaching staff in a press release issued last Friday. He replaces Gilles Charron, who had been with the team for the past four and a half years. However, the job did not materialize in the most conventional way.
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Champagne said that the hiring process wasn’t as stressful as it typically is, for one. There was no stress to be had throughout it.
He got word from a few members of Les Canadiennes who formerly played with the Université de Montréal Carabins—for which Champagne is the goalie coach—that the goaltending coach position with their team was vacant.It was a position that immediately piqued Champagne’s interest. He expressed his desire in occupying the role in an email sent to Canadiennes general manager Meg Hewings.
Hewings phoned Isabelle Leclaire, Champagne’s former head coach from his playing day with the Carabins and the CEGEP de St-Laurent Patriotes—a men’s team also coached by Champagne—to get in touch with him. She also made calls to former Canadiennes and Team Canada goalie, Charline Laboné, who Champagne once coached as well.
“Charline texted me the night after and told me she put in some good words for me and not to let her down,” said Champagne.
From there, the hiring process happened very quickly. Champagne was given the job on Feb. 7 and was on the ice for team practice the following night, the first of two he has conducted with the team thus far.
He has been following the team sporadically the last few years, watching video streams of games online or catching highlight packages on television. Champagne is also familiar with a number of Canadiennes players and coaches from his many years within hockey circles.
The most important pre-existing connection Champagne has is with Canadiennes starter Emerance Maschmeyer. The pair have known each other for three years, with Champagne acting as a consultant with Hockey Canada’s national women’s program since 2015.
Champagne has worked one-on-one with Maschmeyer at senior camps held at Hockey Canada headquarters in Calgary. He continues to be in regular contact with Brad Kirkwood, the head goaltending coach with the national program, who has worked more closely with Maschmeyer over the years.
“I know where [Maschmeyer] stands,” said Champagne. “I know what she can improve on or not. I think she knows that she can trust me [and] I know I can trust her as well.”
Maschmeyer is excited about reuniting with a coach she has some history with, a reality that will make the transition easier for her.
“With our position, it’s very one-on-one compared to defense or offense coaches who are looking after a bunch of players,” said Maschmeyer. “You need to find that relationship quickly and build it up in order for it to work.”Champagne is not looking to change all too much when it comes to Maschmeyer’s technique. After all, Maschmeyer is having a career season with Les Canadiennes, boasting a 15-2-0 record, a 1.76 goals against average and .922 save percentage so far this year to go along with four shutouts.
“I just want to keep her in the comfort zone,” he said. “We’re going to work on making little improvements and touching on small little details in her play.”
“[Champagne] told me that he just wants to find a way to make my game more mature,” said Maschmeyer. “I know I have the base and the tools, it’s just about working on those small details which can make a big difference come the playoffs.”
Champagne prides himself on his communication skills and views the goaltending-coach relationship as a two-way street. He has inquired during video sessions already as to what each goaltender would specifically like to work on in their game, according to Maschmeyer.
“You’ve got to be honest with them and tell them when they are doing something right or wrong,” he said. “It’s also important to tell them how to improve. It boosts their confidence, knowing that there is someone behind them ready to back them up and really cares about what they are doing.”
In fact, Champagne called Canadiennes third-string goaltender Marie-Soleil Deschenes to congratulate her following her first career Canadian Women’s Hockey League win, a shutout to boot, on Feb. 4 in Boston against the Blades.
Deschenes was very excited to receive the call from Champagne in recognition of her accomplishment and is looking forward to working hand-in-hand with him going forward.
“They are helping you to be the best,” said Deschenes. “A goalie coach, for me, is very important. We are very happy to have him here.”
Champagne intends to hang on to his jobs as goaltending coach with the Carabins and Patriotes at least for the remainder of the season. Balancing such a heavy workload does not perturb Champagne. He typically works morning practices with the Patriotes, early afternoon on-ice sessions with the Carabins and now, late evening practices with Les Canadiennes during his typical 16-hour workdays.
However, with the Patriotes and Carabins seasons winding down in the next few weeks, Champagne says he will be able to devote all of his attention towards the end of Les Canadiennes regular season and their subsequent playoff run.
“It requires a lot of discipline,” said Champagne about managing his various duties. “It takes a good balance. I have the time to do everything that I want, even seeing my wife. She’s the most important.”
The new coach will not be joining the team on their upcoming nine-day trip to China where Les Canadiennes will face off twice against both the Kunlun Red Star and Vanke Rays. He plans to follow the team via video stream while they are on the road, as he has grown accustomed to doing with the other teams he coaches.
Champagne is only disappointed that he will have to wait until March 10 to see his goaltenders live in action for the first time in a game against the Calgary Inferno, with the two-week long Olympic break tossed into the mix.
The team has officially labelled him as an “interim” goaltending coach, leaving many doubts as to Champagne’s long-term future with the team. Champagne is choosing not to look too far ahead. Instead, he is focusing his attention towards helping bring out the best in his goaltenders with Les Canadiennes and guide them towards a Clarkson Cup championship.
“First, I’m going to enjoy the moment,” said Champagne. “It’s a natural process in hockey. The team wants to figure out if I’m up to it and at the same time, they want to know if I like it too. You just go day-by-day with those kinds of things.”