The art of protecting a hockey net has changed substantially since Kim Dillabaugh last stood between the pipes in the WHL 17 seasons ago.
As a goaltending coach with the Kelowna Rockets and a member of the Los Angeles Kings’ staff, the 36-year-old native of Duncan has witnessed a dramatic evolution, both in the position itself and in the men who play it.
“I’m glad there’s not a lot of video around from when I played,” laughed Dillabaugh, who played in Tacoma, Kelowna and Calgary in the WHL. “I don’t think you’d learn much from that.”
On a more serious note, Dillabaugh said, like all positions at the elite levels of sports, goaltending is continually being reshaped and redefined.
“The last several years, goaltending has been greatly overhauled,” he said. “All the changes that have happened are pretty complex and are hard to put into a few words…but the biggest difference, I’d say, are that they are way better athletes today. Some guys are more technical in their style, some guys are more reactionary, but one thing they all have in common is that they are elite athletes. It’s not the old adage anymore of putting the guy in goal who can’t skate.”
Dillabaugh is in his 11th season as the goaltending/assistant coach with the Kelowna Rockets, and currently in his eighth year as the overseer of goaltender development for the NHL’s L.A. Kings.
The ex-goaltender splits his time equally between the two organizations, spending about 15 days per month with each.
When he’s not at home in Kelowna mentoring and teaching Rockets’ stoppers Jordon Cooke and Jackson Whistle, Dillabaugh is providing instruction for the Kings’ top goaltending prospects with the American Hockey League’s Manchester Monarchs, based in New Hampshire.
On occasion, he also assists Kings’ goaltending coach Bill Ranford with the continued development of current L.A. netminders Jonathan Quick and Martin Jones.
Ranford, who came on board with the Kings the same season as Dillabaugh, said, like goaltending, the working relationship between the two has grown and evolved over the last eight years.
“I think Kim has a very keen eye from a technical standpoint and he’s really helped me in that regard,” said Ranford. “In working at the junior level, he has a little more leeway to work and tinker with things, and maybe come up with some schemes we can try at the pro level.
“His role has changed to the point where he’s the guy responsible for goaltender development and the young guys in our organization,” added Ranford, “and he’s been such a big part of what we’ve done over the last eight years. For me, he’s a valuable extra set of eyes, whether it’s with video or just the dialogue we have between us.”
From Dillabaugh’s perspective, working with both Ranford and for one of junior hockey’s most successful teams has allowed him to continually grow as a coach.
“There are so many good coaches and developmental people in the game, you have to make sure you’re constantly learning and continuing to get better,” said Dillabaugh. “You can’t take anything for granted because the game is always changing. It’s good…it motivates you to learn and try stay on top of your job. Working with Bill and the Kings, and my job here in Kelowna have both allowed me to do that.”
With a Stanley Cup ring from the Kings in 2012, along with numerous titles with the Kelowana Rockets—including a Memorial Cup and a couple of WHL championships— Dillabaugh is grateful his career choice has connected him with two winning organizations.
So with a growing résumé, and at the still rather youthful coaching age of 36, what are Dillabaugh’s future aspirations ?
“Obviously I feel fortunate to be able to do what I do and the teams I do it for,” Dillabaugh said. “I’m no different than most coaches, that you try and get to the highest level. I am there in some small capacity now, but to be a head goalie coach in the right situation, that’s certainly a goal. Having said that, I’m content with where I am and enjoy what I do.”