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This article was published 25/1/2019 (880 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Laurent Brossoit has been the surprise of the Winnipeg Jets' season, a relatively no-name free-agent signing who has turned into the best backup goalie in the NHL, statistically speaking.
But to understand just how the player and organization got here requires some outside-the-box thinking.
So picture, if you will, that Brossoit is not a hockey player but a straw. Seriously.
"You take a straw and you put it in your hand, straight up, and want to balance a paper plate on it. (Brossoit), because of the laxity in his joints, he's doing that, but as a bendy straw. You're moving that straw around, but the laxity in the middle of the straw creates a wobbly, delayed effect," his trainer, Adam Francilia, told the Free Press Friday in a lengthy phone conversation.
"I think that's a very good visual for people to understand. We had to make the bendy straw less bendy."
Brossoit is now helping to stir the high-flying Jets' drink, going 10-0-1 in his 11 starts this season while resurrecting a career that looked to be on life support just a season ago. His 2.01 goals-against-average and .943 save-percentage are tops among the 56 goalies with at least 11 starts this season.
And Francilia was a driving force behind that. The British Columbia-based trainer with Alpha Hockey Inc. and his NET360 Program had already helped transform No. 1 Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck into a Vezina Trophy finalist last season, and now Brossoit's rapid turnaround is being touted as his latest success.
"I'm so proud of him this year. When we initially talked at the end of last season with LB, I really felt a nice maturity had happened in him. And he was really being self-honest," he said.
"Boy, oh boy, whenever I hear a player talk like that, I really think we can effect some change. Because that's usually the limiting factor with these guys."
The key to tightening up Brossoit's movement was "shoring up his connective tissue" to maximize the impact of his big, athletic and flexible frame.
"It seemed like, from an optics point of view, there was kind of a very over-relaxed, almost to the degree of being too slow in his movements and his reactions," said Francilia.
Brossoit, 25, was coming off a rough season that he started as the backup to Cam Talbot in Edmonton, but lost that job after 14 appearances and was banished to Bakersfield of the AHL as the Oilers crashed and burned.
"I remember when he got sent down, obviously he was disappointed as anybody would be who's a competitive athlete, but he said, 'Now I don't have to worry about being the backup guy up in Edmonton, I can work on a bunch of things in my game that I know I need to work on,'" said Francilia.
"The attitude he had when he went down was basically, 'Yeah it sucks,' but I really think he saw opportunity in it. And that's pretty admirable. A lot of guys would have pouted their way through the rest of the season."
After putting up solid numbers on a weak Bakersfield team (29 games, 2.68 goals-against average, .912 save percentage), Edmonton passed on re-signing the unrestricted free agent. That's where Francilia and Brossoit's agent, Steinbach's Ray Petkau, came in. They spoke extensively with the Jets prior to July 1 about the plan they had for Brossoit, and the organization decided to roll the dice and sign him to a one-year, one-way contract worth $650,000.
"When (Brossoit) saw that support from Ray and myself and the trust of an organization like Winnipeg, that fuelled part of the fire that he needed," said Francilia.
And so, the hard work began last summer.
"He's a pretty unique specimen, as far as physiology. So that required a bit of a unique approach," said Francilia. "We had to stabilize, tighten and connect his connective tissue system. And after doing that, reworking the biomechanics of his body to show him what he needed to do. He's a very observant kid, so he's very easy to work with in that regard."
Brossoit's training is on display nearly every day in the Jets dressing room, where he can often be viewed spread out on the floor doing a series of careful stretches following a practice or morning skate.
"He's actually not stretching. He's creating space in the joints, so he actually maintains integrity in them. That's part of his restoration phase," said Francilia.
The result is tremendous "core stability" which allows Brossoit's body to now react to shooters without giving them the usual opening that other goalies provide, he said.
In essence, they're waiting for him to blink. But it doesn't happen.
"It's a real tough read for guys. Not too many goalies have the physiology that we could even do that. As you can imagine, it was quite a complicated process," said Francilia, who credits Jets goalie coach Wade Flaherty with playing an important role in the process.
"There's a tremendous amount of trust. He's not going in there trying to blow everybody up saying, "You've got to do it my way," said Francilia. "I've learned a ton from him and, likewise, he from me. It's made us both better. He's exactly what LB needed."
As off-season training partners and Francilia's clients, Brossoit and Hellebuyck have developed a strong friendship.
"It doesn't get much better than that. And LB knows his role. He knew his role going in. There's no conflict there. Obviously Helly's the guy. It's a beautiful thing," said Francilia.
He believes Brossoit is built for long-term success and will eventually be a No. 1 goalie in the NHL. The pending restricted free agent is likely due a significant raise after this season and could ultimately be too rich for the salary cap-stretched Jets.
"Some goalies come up, you throw them in the deep end, they are treading water, but eventually you can't tread water for 60 games, you're going to drown. Guys figure you out. you can't be protected by the opponents that you're playing," said Francilia.
"(Brossoit) is not treading water. He's having success in a very specific and measured way. That's not a body or style of play or psyche that's going to get worn out. That's what makes me optimistic he's taking a step that can be followed by another step."
Francilia is currently taking a tour around North America, visiting his five NHL clients, who also include Minnesota's Devan Dubnyk, Florida's James Reimer and Thomas Greiss of the New York Islanders. He also has four AHL clients, including Manitoba Moose No. 1 Eric Comrie, who is having the best season of his four-year career and is also a pending RFA who could be a trade chip for the Jets, assuming they retain Brossoit next summer.
"Man, oh man, he's taken steps. He looks so much stronger in the net this year than he did last year," Francilia said of Comrie, who leads the AHL in saves and is third in save percentage.
Dubnyk is an NHL all-star this weekend, Greiss is having a strong year on the Metropolitan Division-leading Islanders, and two of his other AHL goalie clients were just named all-stars.
Which leads to a question: why aren't other organizations pounding on Francilia's door?
"I can only do this for so many people. It's a lot of work. What I do is very intense. I don't want to overstretch myself," he said.
Fortunately for the Jets, three of Francilia's nine goaltenders are their property.
"Sometimes (clients) call me the secret weapon. Well, if everybody's walking around with it then you're not really very unique anymore.
"We want to keep this a little bit mysterious," he said.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.