Zach Fucale could be forgiven if boredom were to set in from time to time in the Halifax Mooseheads crease.
Charged with manning the net behind the No. 1 offence in the Canadian Hockey League, the 17-year-old star goaltender faces the fewest shots in the QMJHL — 23 per game — and is learning on the fly how to adjust.
It’s a big change from his rookie season, when on many nights Halifax needed Fucale’s best game to have a chance at winning — and more than often, he delivered.
“It’s not the same situation, for sure, it’s quite obvious,” said Fucale, who was Mooseheads co-MVP and won the QMJHL’s Jacques Plante Trophy as defensive rookie of the year.
“But it’s not an excuse. I’ve got to make sure I’m well prepared in my head, mentally, every night.”
Fucale, ranked by International Scouting Service as the top goaltender available in the 2013 NHL draft, has a 14-2-1 record along with a 2.63 goals-against average and a .885 save percentage.
He leads the league in wins, is fifth in goals-against average and 15th in save percentage.
“I feel I could do more,” Fucale said, noting he is focused improving every day.
Mooseheads head coach Dominique Ducharme said facing fewer shots has made it more difficult for Fucale to get into a groove stopping pucks — a groove he was in pretty much all of last season in 75 appearances.
“It’s a different rhythm of the game, the focus is not the same and I think he’s not quite used to it,” Ducharme said. “He’s been good, he’s just struggling a little bit to build that momentum and be consistent.”
According to those who know Fucale best, he has the mental make-up to level things out as the season goes on. World junior head scout Kevin Prendergast, for example, recently described Fucale’s personality as among the most impressive he’s seen in hockey over the past 20 years.
“He’s such a smart kid, an intelligent kid, a mature kid, it’s a matter of time for him to figure it out,” Ducharme said.
Fucale is quick to point out that as much as things have changed from last season, his job remains exactly the same.
“My job is to stop all the pucks — whether I have two shots or 45,” Fucale said. “The boys have their job, I have mine. Together, we’ll do our jobs and win some hockey games.”
The first-place Mooseheads, 17-2-0-1, host the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, 13-6-0-1, on Friday at 7 p.m. and the Val-d’Or Foreurs, 10-9-0-2, on Sunday at 4 p.m.