It’s been a while since I played organized hockey. In fact, the last time was on an intramural team at Miami University during my college days in Oxford, Ohio. I didn’t score much. I took more than my share of penalty minutes, but generally arrived where the puck was with some snarl. More than once (and this may or may not shock you) I managed to get myself tossed for running my mouth at the referee. On a couple of occasions, that led me to a face-to-face meeting with the ice arena administrator at Miami, who served as the rink’s lord of discipline. The man who ran the rink in those days was a no-nonsense individual, who was not likely to look favorably on such transgressions. The meetings were short and to the point. You were likely going to be suspended for your team’s next game. More than likely, you deserved it. The end of the “hearing” was generally met with a handshake, a “knock it off” moving forward, and that would be it.
I didn’t always “knock it off.” Which meant occasionally I'd find myself back in front of Miami’s version of the Department of Player Safety.
Those memories came flooding back for me today, because that rink administrator has a new job. He’s Mitch Korn, the new goaltending coach of the Washington Capitals.
Korn is one of the most colorful hockey personalities I’ve ever known since I started down the road toward the NHL. He’s one of the most successful goalie coaches of our time, having just completed his 23rd season in that capacity. After a lengthy run with the Buffalo Sabres, Mitch has called Nashville his NHL home for the last 16 years. He’s worked alongside Dominic Hasek, Pekka Rinne and many others. His work with the last line of defense is universally respected. He loves to talk, he loves the game, and he loves to teach. While his coaching work is what he’s known for, his other roles around the game make him as much a hockey “renaissance man” as I’ve ever known.
He was responsible for running Goggin Ice Arena at Miami University for years, which meant overseeing the University’s vast hockey and broomball intramural program. His office staffed all the games with on-ice officials, and disciplined students (ahem) that stepped out of line during games. More importantly to the hockey program at Miami, he was the team’s goaltending coach, and he’d commute back and forth to Buffalo to serve in the same role for the Sabres. I was amazed back then how he found the time to wear so many different hats.
Korn’s teaching wasn’t limited to goaltending back in those days. Amazingly, he also found time to teach marketing classes at Miami at night, working in the same department as my father. The elder John Walton taught senior level and graduate students at Miami until his retirement in 2006, and the marketing department in those days was housed right cross the street from the arena. Which was perhaps fortunate for Korn, because he certainly had a lot on his plate. I never saw Mitch teach in the classroom, but I have no doubt he was a commanding presence in that role. I’m sure a lot of goalies along the way know more about that than I do.
Incredibly, Mitch found the time to serve in another capacity at Miami, this one as close to home as it gets for me. For several seasons, he was the play-by-play voice of Miami hockey on radio, working with the goalies by day and calling the games they played in at night. If for some reason my throat ever goes bad on a long road trip sometime, Mitch would be more than capable to throw on the headset and fill the void. Within the game and outside of it, you’d be hard pressed to find someone with more of a broad base of knowledge than Mitch Korn.
From the time I left Miami to the time I reached Washington, I never went very long without running into Mitch along the way. During my AHL days, I’d see him in Milwaukee, when he was dispatched there by Nashville. He was at Giant Center in Hershey four years ago this month when the Bears won the 2010 Calder Cup over the Texas Stars. I saw Mitch in Cincinnati at an ECHL game I was at during the work stoppage last season. Most recently, we caught up in Nashville when the Caps played at Bridgestone Arena in late March. In a world filled with winter travel in many far off cities, seeing Mitch for me has always has brought with it a feeling of familiarity, a tie to my college days, and a tie to my father.
The hiring of Mitch Korn is a huge boost to the Washington Capitals organization. But for me, it runs deeper than that. It’s not every day someone joins the staff that you’ve known for almost 25 years, but that’s where I’m at on this day. I’m thrilled he’s in D.C., and look forward to watching him work with our guys here, just like I did back in Oxford.
And if he tells me to “knock it off”, I’ll have the good sense to listen.
Follow Mitch on Twitter @mitchkorncaps