Ron Hextall might not be the most outspoken general manager the Pittsburgh Penguins have had, but he’s moved steadily to reshape the Penguins organization. Hextall fired goalie coach Mike Buckley and promoted Andy Chiodo to the big job. On Thursday morning, Hextall laid out what he expects and why he made the change.
That surprise move, though perhaps much needed, occurred on Wednesday afternoon.
Hextall called it “a gut feeling” to make the change, and from one goalie to another, Hextall was impressed with Chiodo’s long road to success. And Chiodo’s road was a long, long road that included years in Europe, the ECHL, and began in the OHL.
“I really like the way he came up through the Ontario league, the American league-slash-development, and to the NHL,” said the Penguins GM. “I actually watched Andy as a scout way back in the day, when he was in Wilkes-Barre, so I understand the competitiveness, understanding the position, and–for the most part–being a minor league goalie; the trials and tribulations, the ups and downs, (he) spent some time in Europe. I just really like the profile of what he is, and talking to a lot of the people around here that are familiar with him, there wasn’t a bad word said about him…”
Hextall certainly likes people with whom he is familiar. In his five-month tenure as the Penguins GM, Hextall has hired his former AGM Chris Pryor, Pryor’s son, Hextall’s son, and scouts he employed while GM of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Chiodo spent the last three seasons as the Penguins goalie development coach, which means he worked with the WBS Penguins goalies, which previously included current Penguins goalies Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith. Chiodo also worked with top goalie prospects Calle Clang and Joel Blomqvist, the third and second-round picks in the 2020 NHL Draft, respectively.
Both of those goalies remain in their native Scandanavian countries, Blomqvist in Finland and Clang in Sweden. Hextall plans to replace Chiodo in the goalie development role.
“We’re definitely going to replace him. That’s an important role being in Wilkes and getting out to hopefully see our prospects this year..,” Hextall asserted. “So one of those things–that you have a Bloomquist and a Clang, they need some attention from the organization and some teaching and mentoring. So we’ll definitely look for the best guy we can find.”
Tristan Jarry, Pittsburgh Penguins Goalie
Hextall didn’t outright slam his fist on the table and say Tristan Jarry is the Pittsburgh Penguins starting goalie. His continued and unwavering support for Jarry includes speaking to issues the Penguins hope to improve.
“You know, when when you’re goaltender–and I’ve lived it–there are disappointments that you have to get over, and you have to bounce back from. And, I feel strongly that Tristan is going to bounce back and be a very good goaltender for us throughout the entire year.”
That’s where Chiodo comes into play. As the goalie coach, Chiodo will now focus on the NHL goalies rather than the system. Those trials and tribulations, the fighting spirit of suffering through the minors or Europe, hoping for one more shot define a player and his mental makeup. Chiodo battled for 14 years of professional hockey, despite just eight NHL games–and all of those came in 2003-04 with the Penguins.
Chiodo didn’t retire until after playing52 games for the Innsbruck team in the Austrian league in 2017.
That’s the mental toughness and the mental game Hextall wants Chiodo to bring to Tristan Jarry.
“…Hopefully, we can make some little tweaks…the mental side of the game for a goaltender is a huge part of it. And Andy is well aware of that,” Hextall said. “Going back to Jarry’s experience from last year, he’s still a young goalie that’s learning. And I believe he’s going to learn a lot from last year. And like I said, I really like what Andy is going to bring to the table here.”
Anyone who rides the buses in the ECHL lives to tell the tales and continues to play hockey is mentally tough and loves the game. After parts of four seasons in the ECHL, Chiodo qualifies.
And getting Jarry to bounce back from a poor playoff performance which was further marked by a ghastly giveaway in overtime to lose Game 5 against the New York Islanders, is part of the job.
Hextall seemed convinced Chiodo is the right person for the job.