It’s known as “The Dungeon,” but Cam Talbot willingly calls it home during the offseason.
Far from a place to hold prisoners, it is an indoor training rink located in an industrial park outside Hamilton, Ontario, and might be the key to unlocking Talbot’s potential with the Minnesota Wild after the goalie signed a three-year, $11 million contract ($3.67 million average annual value) as a free agent Oct. 9.
Talbot has returned there to train during almost every offseason with Patrick Dipronio, his personal goaltending coach since Talbot was 10, and plans to do so again in the next week or two.
“It’s not dark like a dungeon, but it is small and cold,” said Calgary Flames goaltending coach Jordan Sigalet, who visited the rink, officially the Grainger Training Centre, last offseason after Talbot signed a one-year contract with Calgary.
The facility is well lit, with dressing rooms and all the amenities expected in a modern rink, but the work Dipronio puts Talbot through there can get a little dark, conjuring visions of Hall of Fame coach Herb Brooks famously putting the 1980 United States men’s Olympic team through a bag skate right after a disappointing 3-3 tie against Norway in an exhibition game.
“You hear the word ‘again’ a lot,” Sigalet said. “Pat expects perfection, and if he doesn’t like something, he makes Cam do it again and again.”
It’s that mentality that makes the facility’s nickname appropriate and why Talbot returns each offseason, 23 years after his first session there, which left Talbot in tears and asking his dad not to send him back to Dipronio.
Grainger Training Centre may not be an actual torture chamber, but it can feel like one.
“Pat draws up the drills,” Talbot said, “and the first part is timing and tracking, getting my feet under me, and then the last 30-40 minutes of the hour session he basically tries to kill me.”
The rink is one-third the size of a regulation ice sheet, and Talbot said the smaller area ensures every shot is a “grade-A, high-danger scoring chance.” Friends and former teammates, including some who play professionally overseas, are invited to be the shooters. Maintaining a high degree of difficulty is the point.
Dipronio, who knows some students call him The Torturer, understands and drives this mindset.
“If there’s three shots to a drill and you don’t stop all three, he doesn’t count it and you have to do 10 perfect sets,” Talbot said. “Sometimes you can do it in 12 and sometimes you have to do 25 before you get to 10 perfect sets because the shooters are so good and the situations aren’t ideal in there.
“That’s why we call it The Dungeon, because you go in there and know it’s time to work. You come out and don’t always feel the best, but you definitely accomplished something. You’re exhausted, gasping for air, you want water, but when you’re in there for that hour, the only thing that matters is the work you put in. Pat knows how to get the best out of me, and that’s why we’ve had such a great relationship and why I’ve stuck with him for 23 years.”
Talbot has worked with several NHL goaltending coaches during his seven seasons in the League, starting with Benoit Allaire of the New York Rangers. He then worked with Dustin Schwartz of the Edmonton Oilers, had a brief stint with Kim Dillabaugh of the Philadelphia Flyers during the 2018-19 season, and was with Sigalet in Calgary last season. He credits each with adding to his game but said he felt there was something missing when Dipronio and the facility were not part of his offseason regimen for a couple of years.
To get back to his best, Talbot returned to both before last season and again after the season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. He was 12-10-1 with a 2.63 goals-against average and .919 save percentage last season after going 11-17-3 with a 3.40 GAA and .892 save percentage in 2018-19 with Edmonton and Philadelphia.
“When you have that one anchor to come back to as a constant, it definitely helps, especially when you’ve been bounced around as much as I have the past couple years,” Talbot said.
Sigalet agrees, which is why he drove five hours each way from his in-laws’ home in Ohio to spend a day with Talbot and Dipronio last offseason, and why he’s trying to arrange a trip to Sweden to visit Jacob Markstrom, who signed a six-year, $36 million contract ($6 million average annual value) with the Flames on Oct. 9. Sigalet said he believes NHL goaltending coaches can benefit from knowing the experts their goalies are turning to in the offseason to refine their game.
“You need the summer goalie coach on the same page,” Sigalet said. “That coach is going to give a goalie stability, so to build a relationship with him is huge. I didn’t really have that trust with Cam yet, but he did with Pat, so channeling through Pat in the summer let Cam attack certain areas, which was huge because then you’re not trying to do it in-season and making him overthink too much.”
Dipronio said he is eager to help NHL goalie coaches, taking what they want to see and applying it to Talbot’s game. The only thing he won’t compromise on is that dungeon mindset.
“I’ve got almost a torture mentality,” Dipronio said. “In the winter, it’s a fridge. In the summer, it’s a sweatshop. But Cam and his work ethic and what we do won’t change. It’s about doing it right. No rebounds. No posts. No missed plays. That’s where the dungeon thing comes in.”