PRO Goaltending Brings a Year of Heavy Growth in Return to Montreal Training Camp

Goalie Coach Michael Lawrence Proud of Hometown Hockey Camp

  • Goalie Coach Michael Lawrence has been coached across several major junior and professional leagues. Photo Ireland Compton

  • PRO Goaltending has worked with NHL goalies like Michael Neuvirth and Ken Appleby. Photo Ireland Compton

After their first foray into Montreal, PRO Goaltending brought their elite camp back to the city for its second annual installment in early July. With two strong hockey minds at the head, the goalie training program has seen strong growth over the last year.

The camp is run by Concordia men’s hockey head scout Justin Shemie and professional goaltending coach Michael Lawrence. The goalie coach for Lugano, a top Swiss team, Lawrence and his company have trained NHL goalies like Michael Neuvirth, Malcolm Subban, and Ken Appleby.

Last year’s camp had 15 young goalies training at Concordia’s Ed Meagher arena. This year, 29 players attended the camp, splitting into two groups and alternating between on and off ice workouts to make sure that every goalie got the proper attention from the coaches and trainers.

“It’s great for us to have a bigger pipeline of goalies and [work with] younger, but still elite, goalies,” said Shemie of the larger group.

The young scout is at the head of organizing the Montreal camp and keeping things running smoothly while Lawrence and his team of coaches mold a group of 12 to 19 year olds into top tier goaltenders.

Some of these players are major junior draft picks while others play for top hockey schools, depending on their age group.

Over the course of the week long stay, they work on specific, detail oriented techniques and positional issues with their coaches while receiving off-ice training in the gym that’s designed specifically for goaltenders.

Goalie coach Kevin Beech demonstrates new drills. Photo Ireland Compton

Coach Antoine Marchand’s connection to Concordia runs deeper than just training young players in the arena.

Marchand spent five years as a goalie for the Stingers and is now bringing his experience as both a player and camp coach to PRO Goaltending’s roster.

“I’m not gonna lie. I miss being around here,” said Marchand. “I can say that this is really unique coaching. I’m learning a lot too.”

Marchand’s gone from playing at Concordia to training goalies from across four provinces (as well as one from as far away as Arizona) and working video sessions.

He’s got plenty of talent to work with. The camp includes names like Zach Racine, the first goalie selected in the Central Canada Hockey League Bantam draft (eleventh overall by the Rockland Nationals) and Griffin Kelly, a Quebec Remparts draft pick in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

For Shemie, the program is about building long-term relationships with the players that come in. “It’s about finding goalies who you think have elite talent, who are interested in coming to work with you, and who we think we can help more than anyone else,” he said.

He added that many at this year’s camp are graduates of last year’s edition, and that the organization keeps in touch with players during their seasons.

Pro Goaltending’s head instructor was of the same mind. Michael Lawrence places a big focus on the long term relationships his program creates with their goalies and feels the term “camp” doesn’t do that justice.

Lawrence said he felt that the word camp makes it seem as if the goaltenders get a week of training and that’s it. In reality, they have their week of training and workshops that serve as the beginning of long term, often long distance, relationships that mean the goalies are constantly getting advice and training throughout their seasons.

Presentations from sports equipment company Bauer and a nutritionist were all part of the training as well. The goal is to ensure that these athletes are properly prepared for every aspect of life as a major junior or professional goaltender.

Between phone conversations and a video program that the organization uses to see any game that one of their goalies play in, the technique and play of each goaltender is analyzed and improved on throughout the year.

“To grow these roots here, it’s warming. I don’t know a better way to put it. You see the progress of these guys. Helping kids in Ontario has been amazing but there’s something about being home and helping kids here. It’s a great feeling.” — Michael Lawrence

Aidan Foley, a goalie attending the Ontario Hockey Academy, was one of the participants from both this and last year’s weeks in Montreal.

He’s noticed some growth compared to last year already and his work at the drills showed his experience with the kind of work Lawrence and his coaches had him doing.

That doesn’t mean it was an easy workload for the young goalie. The camp was a lot more technical and more intense this year for him. Foley relished the new difficulty level.

“It’s a lot faster and more game-like situations […] it’s developing a lot. I’m getting a lot better because of this,” said the five foot, nine inches goalie.

Despite being on the small side compared to some of the six-foot-three netminders he’s next to, Foley’s felt just as capable because of the training he’s getting.

Seeing the confidence and skills of players like Foley and the growth of the Montreal camp as a whole certainly gave plenty of confidence to those running it that things are headed in the right direction.

“I’m thrilled. I’m the salesman but Mike is really the product and he’s done a great job,” said Shemie.

The Coach at the heart of it

“The product” certainly stands out both on the ice and on paper. Lawrence’s resume includes coaching jobs in the Ontario Hockey League, the Russian Kontinental Hockey League and even Team Canada at the annual Spengler Cup tournament.

With years of experience across these leagues under his belt, Lawrence has come back home to run his Montreal camp in the offseason.

Born in Montreal, Lawrence has roots in Ontario, having moved at 10 years old and developed his organization’s largest camp there. There’s something special for him in seeing the direction that his company is going in his hometown.

“To grow these roots here, it’s warming. I don’t know a better way to put it. You see the progress of these guys. Helping kids in Ontario has been amazing but there’s something about being home and helping kids here. It’s a great feeling,” said the St. Bruno native.

As happy as he is to see his dream coming to fruition at home, it hasn’t been an easy ride for the Lugano goalie coach.

At just 21 years old, in his second year of university, he already knew what we needed to be doing.

“My curse was always knowing what I wanted to do, knowing what the end goal was,” said Lawrence with a smile.

Unfortunately for him, it wasn’t so simple. Young people that are so sure what they want to do are not always taken very seriously. This is even more true when there isn’t much of a set path for what you want to be doing according to Lawrence.

When Lawrence was starting out, the state of goalie coaching was nowhere near where it is today. There were some top coaches like Francois Allaire (the first goalie coach of the Montreal Canadiens) as well as Concordia hockey’s own Jim Corsi.

But these were top coaches working in the NHL. Older established guys were making a living doing this kind of thing but few could manage it.

It was a long time before Lawrence was one of the ones making a living off of his craft. In his early twenties, he decided to go all in, left his work and set out on a journey to build his company and become a professional goalie coach.

It started with a break from his uncle who had taken over running a young midget AA team in the Ottawa tier two league. Lawrence was brought on to work with the goalies and eventually worked his way up to the top tier OHL, a premiere major junior league. He still wasn’t making a living and couldn’t afford a car to get himself to the arena.

Years of putting in the work eventually earned Lawrence not only a living, but a level of prestige as a top coach working with professional European leagues and development programs in Canada.

PRO Goaltending is growing quickly in Lawrence’s hometown now and he couldn’t be happier.

“At the end of the day, this isn’t how I make my living. I make my living with the professional clubs I work for as a coach. This is about what you’re giving back to the next generation of kids coming. To be able to do that where you grew up? That’s awesome,” said Lawrence.

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