By Don Stewart
READING, Pa. – Even at 40 years old, Bill Ranford was easily the best goalie in Los Angeles at times last winter. He joked that the front office unsuccessfully tried to talk him into suiting up.
Injuries took out Mathieu Garon and Dan Cloutier, and Jason LaBarbera was trapped in the AHL due to waiver rules. It led to former Reading backstops Barry Brust and Yutaka Fukufuji getting NHL time.
Ranford retired in 2000 after a 15-year career that saw him win two Stanley Cups (1988 and ’90) and the Conn Smythe Trophy (’90) with Edmonton. He has no wish to try to recapture any past glory, though as the Kings goaltending coach, Ranford has been instrumental in helping the team rebuild its goalie corps.
“I don’t miss the aches and pains,” he said. “You miss the camaraderie of your teammates and stuff, but I get a little bit of that back by being a coach now.
“That’s what you miss the most, just being around the guys.”
Ranford was around the Reading Royals for a couple days last week. He came to town mostly to work with Kings goaltending prospect Jon Quick, though he did give pointers to ECHL-contracted goalies Jeff Pietrasiak and Curtis Darling.
In past seasons, Los Angeles rarely showed interest in its ECHL affiliate. But Ranford and assistant Kim Dillabaugh are taking trips East this year to work with Quick and the other young goalies in the system.
“It’s important for our organization to solidify our goaltending,” Ranford said, “and that’s why I’ve worked so hard to look at the guys like Jon Quick and Erik Ersburg that we have in Manchester, and then one of our future goalies in Jonathan Bernier who’s in Lewiston.”
The 21-year-old Quick, a UMass product, was taken in the third round of the 2005 NHL draft. The Kings expected to have Quick and Ersburg share time in Manchester.
But the signing of NHL vet Jean Sebastian-Aubin led to Cloutier being sent to the AHL, which led to Quick getting assigned to Reading. Ranford feels Quick has handled the situation well.
“I think from an organization standpoint, we’re really happy,” he said of Quick. “The fact that he’s going to get the chance to play a lot of hockey is what’s important.
“He’s played at UMass the last couple years, and I think he’s already probably played a third of a season of university hockey, and he’s only a month in. That’s a real positive.”
It’s not easy for a rookie to start out in an NHL training camp, only to end up in the ECHL a month later. But the continued attention from the Kings has helped maintain Quick’s spirits.
“It really is a good feeling to know that they’re still looking out for you and they’re trying to make me get better,” Quick said. “It’s good to know that there’s that kind of support in the system that the organization would send him (Ranford) to an ECHL team just to teach me.
“He’s been around the game a lot. He has a lot of experience, and he knows what he’s talking about, so I’m just trying to listen and take in as much as I can from him.”
With Ranford on the ice, there seemed to be a little more energy in Tuesday’s practice. Royals coach Karl Taylor was certainly happy to have Ranford around to help, especially with memories of last winter’s goalie struggles still fresh.
“It’s good for all our goalies,” Taylor said. “Any time we get an expert opinion on anything, it’s gonna help us. It’s really nice to have that support from LA. We haven’t had that as far as a goalie coach coming in the last couple years.”
Ranford alluded to more visits this season from himself and Dillabaugh. He’s enjoying his role with Los Angeles, though he admits it’s tough having to spend so much time away from his family.
It’s the main reason why Ranford is one of the few coaches in the business who isn’t hoping to work his way into an NHL head coaching role.
“Never,” he said. “This is what I want to do. I enjoy doing it.”