His contract was expiring on July 1 and the Nashville Predators had tried their hardest to negotiate a new deal, but Mitch Korn’s heart was set on walking away. More than 30 years in the coaching ranks, dating back to his days with Miami (Ohio) University in the early 1980s, had taken their toll, not to mention all those summers crossing the country, teaching burgeoning netminders at youth camps, armed with his bag of props and a backlog of stories. So he resisted signing a new contract. He thought his time was up.
“Honestly,” Korn said, “I was ready to retire.”
And then he invoked “The Godfather.”
“Just when you think you’re out, they drag you back in,” Korn said, quoting the famous crime movie from 1972, when Korn himself was still a teenager. “When family asks you to help, you respond.”
That family was Barry Trotz, the man whom Korn worked with for 15 seasons in Nashville, respectively the only head coach and goaltending coach the Predators had known since the franchise’s inception. And responding meant coming to Washington, joining Trotz for a new challenge, reuniting the band just like old times. On Tuesday, the Capitals formally announced Korn as their new goaltending coach, a terribly kept secret now for weeks.
“We’re like an old married couple,” Korn said on a teleconference. “We finish each other’s sentences. He knows what I think and what I believe, and I believe he believes the same things. It’s very rare we’ve had an argument over a goalie, an argument over a goal. He gets it.”
Korn does too. His teleconference, stretched over 20 minutes, was spent telling tales about everything from his NHL start — when a self-made instructional video caught the eye of the Buffalo Sabres at a summer camp — to his relationship with future NHL Hall of Fame inductee Dominik Hasek, and how before the famous goalie was nicknamed “The Dominator,” Korn called him “The Count,” because of an overcoat sported during the thick upstate New York winters.
But most importantly, he brings to Washington a long track record of molding unheralded goalie prospects into NHL staples. So far, Korn has spoken with the man he will replace, Capitals legend Olie Kolzig, but wants to assess with a clean mind. He’s reached out to incumbent starter Braden Holtby on the telephone and watched some video but, as Korn has always said, “You don’t really know it until you own it.”
That said, his initial impressions of Holtby, who fluctuated between the bench and the pipes in dramatic spurts last season, were glowing.
“He’s very focused,” Korn said. “He’s very cerebral. He’s got a big body and he’s very athletic. Those things are great in today’s NHL game. I am Braden’s fourth goalie coach in the time that he’s been in Washington. I hope to bring some continuity, which hasn’t necessarily been there.
“We hope we can make him an elite goalie in the National Hockey League without putting too much pressure on him by making that statement.”
As for his predecessor, Korn guaranteed that Kolzig will remain with the Capitals in some capacity, most likely in a part-time role shuffling between Washington and Hershey to provide another eye for improvement. Their relationship, like many of Korn’s it seems, dates back decades, this one to 1992 when Kolzig was loaned to the Sabres organization.
“We have a long relationship and we’ve been talking about what he wants to do and what he can do,” Korn said. “He’s got a unique family situation. Obviously he’s traveled a ton, being a pro goalie for a long time. We’re working to put the best package together for him to make it work, from scouting to coaching, a variety of different things to make it work. Olie will be a part of what we do. That decision has been made. Everybody’s on board.”