Scanning for kinks in Zachary Fucale's game has been known to cause severe eye strain.
One should not get carried away proclaiming that North America's top-ranked goalie prospect for the NHL draft is a young man without a flaw. The Halifax Mooseheads goalie is not immune to the fluctuations in performance and confidence that are particular to young netminders. What is striking about Fucale is that since his arrival in Halifax about 18 months ago, he has shown an economy of movement that's rare in a developing netminder. The Rosemère, Que., native, in his own words, is "patient on pucks" in a way that could make you think he's 17 going on 25.
"For me, it's just being calm and staying controlled in what you're doing and keeping things simple — not moving for nothing if you don't have to," says Fucale, who has a 2.42 average and .901 save percentage for the Quebec League-leading Mooseheads. "As soon as you do that, you save a lot of energy. As a goalie, that's important."
That almost calls to mind one of Henry Hill's voice-overs in GoodFellas — "Paulie may have moved slow, but it was only because Paulie didn't have to move for anybody." That was a different context, obviously, but it drives at how there's a certitude behind Fucale not thrashing about to challenge shooters and leaving himself in a poor recovery position.
That might also explain why Fucale has been remarkably durable for Halifax. He set a QMJHL rookie record for wins last season and, all told, played 75 regular-season and playoff games as 16-year-old. Fucale is presently third in the QMJHL in minutes played behind two 18-year-olds, Ottawa Senators draft pick François Brassard of the Quebec Remparts and the Saint John Sea Dogs' Sébastien Auger. Halifax coach Dominique Ducharme is planning to give him some nights off as the regular season winds down, since the Mooseheads are planning to ramp up for a long playoff run.
A big storyline of Fucale's sophomore season has involved his ability to focus despite occasionally lengthy stretches of seeing very few shots, since the Mooseheads are often dominant team. He is working on honing his competitiveness, as he notes he's reading the book Mind Gym by sports psychology consultant Gary Mack. Being the goalie on a team with fellow 17-year-old top prospects Jonathan Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon, the top-ranked Canadian forwards in the NHL draft class, also helps with Fucale's drive.
"It's funny, because in Halifax, the whole team stays out until the coach yells at us to get off," says Fucale, who on Friday was presented as Halifax's nominee for the Marcel Robert Trophy that is given to the QMJHL's top scholastic player.
"But yes, Nate and Jo and I, we have a lot of fun. It's always little competitions during practice, 'you scored on me,' 'I saved on you,' things like that."
1. How did you get started as a goaltender?
"It's a funny story. It was a little all-star game for kids — we were five years old — and it was missing a goalie. My friend's dad asked me if I wanted to strap on the pads. I've always liked [New Jersey Devils great and Quebec icon] Martin Brodeur, so I tried it and loved it."
2. Which goaltenders do you study particularly closely?
"As a kid growing up it was more Brodeur. As I grew up and saw the game differently, I started looking more at Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price. Guys like them and Jonathan Quick. You take out little parts of their game and put it into mine. It's kind of hard to explain if you're not a goalie, but just the way Henrik is patient on pucks, just the overall movement, fluidity, of Carey Price. You just take the little parts of their game like that."
3. What is the biggest asset you bring to a team?
"It's sort of a no-brainer. If it was Wayne Gretzky, I probably wouldn't be able to stop him. But all the legends out there, you ask yourself, how good were they? You were never on the ice with them but you know they were exceptional people. That would make people realize how great and incredible their achievements were, to step on the ice with them. For me, to face pretty much any legend, it would just be a gift. Anyone."
4. What can you say about your coach, Dominique Ducharme; it's his second year in the league and your team is running away with first place?
"We started it together, because it turned into a winning thing with the franchise last year. We started from scratch with him. He's been implementing really good systems and a really good mindset. Dom has been helping us every step of the way, whenever we're stepping out of our track, he brings us back. I have to give him a lot of credit."
5. Favourite road rink in the Q?
"It's got to be Quebec. The Colisée, it was a NHL rink. You walk into that rink and you feel all the moments that passed in there. You walk on the ice knowing what happened. It's pretty cool, the feeling when you step on the ice there."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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