A Conversation with Zach Fucale
When it comes to evaluating the class of goaltenders available in the 2013 NHL Draft, a great place to start is by getting to know Halifax Mooseheads goaltender Zach Fucale.
Last season, Fucale’s draft value soared after he produced one of the most remarkable rookie campaigns in the history of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Photo Copyright: David Chan | Provided by: Halifax Mooseheads
Not only did he set a QMJHL record for the most wins by a 16-year-old goalie with 32, but in 58 starts, he posted a very respectable 3.16 goals-against average and .892 save percentage. His jaw-dropping display of durability continued in the playoffs, as he appeared in 17 more games and posted a 2.88 GAA and .904 SV%.
For his impressive efforts, Zach was awarded with the Raymond Lagace Trophy as the QMJHL’s top defensive rookie. He also captured the starting role on Team Canada’s U-18 squad for the annual Ivan Hlinka Tournament.
As if his season wasn’t already soaked in success, Zach capped off his season by backstopping Team Canada to their fifth-straight Gold Medal in style. He did this by posting a poised 23-save shutout over Finland in the championship game.
To give you an idea of Fucale’s valuable upside heading into his draft season, take a look at what he earned at Halifax’s annual team awards ceremony. The Rosemere, Quebec native not only took home the Co-MVP award with Nathan McKinnon, but he also won the Fans’ Choice award, the Top Rookie award, and maybe most revealing for me, the Academic Player of the Year award.
After speaking with Fucale late last week, I was very impressed with his personality. There was a genuine undertone to his words, and he reflected a maturity beyond his years through a “big picture” understanding of his recent success.
I was also impressed with Zach’s willingness to listen and learn. Before our conversation ended, he asked a few questions of his own. He not only wondered if I had read a certain book on the mental pressures of golfing, but wanted to know more about my Periodic Table of Goaltending Elements, my article on Muscle Armoring, and The Goalie Guild’s origins.
Clearly a curious fellow and a quality student, Fucale is likely one of the more coachable 17-year-olds out there. That’s an essential trait for any goalie at any age to have, especially if they strive to continually improve and refine their game.
Fucale may only be 17, but what impresses me the most is how he already shows signs of having a special unselfish and egoless aura. I personally stress the importance of an egoless approach to every goalie I mentor, and after speaking with Zach for only 30 minutes, I could tell he plays without a single ounce of self-gratification or self-righteousness.
He’s simply out there doing whatever he can to help his team win, and as he continues to develop over time, that mature and unselfish mindset will likely lead him down a path of tremendous success.
Photo Copyright: David Chan | Provided by: Halifax Mooseheads
JG: So let’s start by talking real quickly about your experience at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament.
ZF: “Oh, it was really, really fun to be a part of that, and it was an honor to be picked by Team Canada for sure. It was my first time being a part of the whole Team Canada experience, so it was a lot of fun to compete against other nations like Sweden, Finland, and the Czech Republic. There’s a lot of pride involved, and each country really wants to win. They want to beat you so bad, and we want to beat them just as bad too, so it was always big battles out there, and it was a lot of fun to be a part of.”
JG: How did you get ready for that tournament when it’s still “summertime” for a lot of your friends and teammates? How did you prepare mentally for such a big experience?
ZF: “I told myself from the beginning that my summer was over at the start of Team Canada’s camp. I prepared myself as if the year was starting at that exact date, so it wasn’t really much different than last year or the year before. I just told myself ‘It starts there,’ and I started my preparations earlier so that I was ready to go when camp started. So it wasn’t much of a change.”
JG: Talk a little bit about how you may have developed and honed your game over the summer. Did you make any tweaks or focus on any particular areas of your game?
ZF: “I’m thankful to have my goalie coach from Halifax living just 10 minutes away from my hometown, so it was cool to have him around and to go on the ice with him many times this summer. First of all, I gave myself a big break. There was about a month where I really just worked off the ice, and I just tried to just get outside and not think about hockey. I played golf as much as I possibly could, and just worked on my off-ice strength and conditioning. After that month, I went on the ice with Eric my goalie coach and just worked on pretty much all general parts of my game. There wasn’t one area we worked on more than others, we just looked at every little thing and refined my overall control, my speed, and just being able to stay relaxed by controlling my movements and my body out there. It was a good off-season for me from that point of view for sure. We also had good talks about the mental side of the game. We stepped back and analyzed what happened during the year, how we looked at different situations and stuff like that. That’s always a plus and a bonus to be able to have those sort of talks on the mental side of the game. That helped me out a lot, too.”
JG: On that note, one thing I ask every goalie I talk to — even pro goalies — is for their definition of mental toughness. What I love about scouting you guys is that everyone has a different answer or explanation, and it helps me uncover what makes you unique from other goalies. So what would be your definition?
ZF: To me, when you’re mentally tough, you’re able to deal with certain pressure situations. When you’re in a big game like a Gold Medal final or a Game 7 in overtime, or whatever pressure situation you’re in, you have to look at it as if it were any other game. Some people, whenever they’re facing adversity or a tough challenge, they seem to change their way of approaching the game, you know? For example, a golfer that has a three-foot routine putt in front of him, but say there’s a couple of million dollars on it, in the putter’s mind, he may change the way he thinks. He might doubt himself and he won’t think it straight, you know what I’m trying to say? It changes his perspective of the game. To be mentally tough to me really means you can look at pressure situations just as any other game. You’re able to deal with those situations and able to control your mind, so to me, being mentally tough is being able to control yourself in pressure situations. It’s how you manage to come back from a bad performance, or something like that. I think generally, being mentally tough is how you manage and handle things.”
JG: Got it, perfect buddy.
ZF: “Could you understand the example I used with the golfer? I was reading this book about a golfer, and there was a millionare that was mentoring him…have you ever heard of the book, The Golfer and the Millionaire?”
JG: I haven’t, but your answer and example is dead on. What I like about your definition was the part about controlling your mind. To me, that is a mentally tough goaltender. It is so easy for goalies to allow negative thoughts to creep into their mind. But if you’re able to block out the negative and stay positive, and not only stay positive but just continue to maintain the same disposition in the net by staying relaxed regardless of the pressure, that’s a sign of true mental toughness, and that’s being able to control your mind. So I think you have a great definition, and it will definitely help you as you continue to develop your game.
ZF: “Thank you.”
JG: But let’s go back and talk about your rookie year in Halifax real quick. I mean, from scouts that I’ve talked to, one word that keeps popping up is your durability. Obviously that stems from the number of games you played last season, but can you talk about your ability to play so many games, and the confidence you gained as a result of earning so many starts?
ZF: “When I was playing in my 35th game, it hit me that I was just riding the wave. I didn’t really realize what was happening to me at the exact moment. Even until the last game, I didn’t really realize what was going on. I was just playing along and every day the coach came to me and told me I was playing the next one. I wasn’t surprised because I was just so happy to have such a great opportunity to be a part of the team. I tried to contribute as much as I could every night. After the year was over, I saw the number of games, and then I sort of realized that it was a great accomplishment, and I was really thankful to have such a great team and staff to help me out and to guide me. My goalie coach Eric Raymond helped me out so much during the year, it was unbelievable. I’m really looking forward to this year and going back in a few days, and I’m really excited to get back on the ice with the guys and get going this season. We had a lot of fun last year and we’re just going to take it game by game and try to get better every day.”
JG: So now that you’ve had a couple of months to digest and reflect on what you’ve accomplished, what is your main focus for the upcoming season, either mentally or physically?
ZF: “Hmm, that’s a good question, I haven’t really thought of that yet. I’m going to go back there and just make sure that…well, like I said I…well…I don’t think there’s one big thing I have to work on. I think everything is something I need to work on. I’m far from being like the best goalie I can be with my body and my mind, you know? Every little part I can work on, and I’m going to concentrate on that all year long, every single day, to make sure that I’m prepared for the next game. I’m going to want to contribute as much as I can every day, every night, and every game.”
JG: That’s a great mindset to have. You always want to be working hard and improving on all facets of the game. Even guys like Carey Price, they’re not perfect, you know? They look so good and so consistent, but even they have to work on things every day.
ZF: “You know when you come into the Q interviews before you get drafted, every team wants to talk to you, right? They interview you and they ask, ‘what is just one thing you think you have to work on?’ I always say to myself, that’s kind of a stupid question, you know? I tell myself that all the time because I can’t think of just one thing I need to work on — I’d have to name all of them! I’m far from being the best I can be, you know? Like I told you, that’s the thing I want to work on — everything. I want to work on the mental side, the physical side, and technical side of the game. But mentally, as I grow and move up the levels, I want to make sure I am not just good, I want to excel. I don’t want to just be good, I want to be at the top, you know?”
JG: Well that’s an interesting comment Zach, because you’ll probably be going through a similar round of questioning next summer with NHL teams. They’re going to ask a lot of the same things, like what you want to work on or improve. And believe me when I say that a scout wants to hear exactly what you just told me. They want to hear you’re not happy with your game, that you’re always looking to improve every aspect, especially the mental side. I want to hear that a goalie is never satisfied, because then I have faith that they’re constantly going to work at being better, and I know they will always have plenty to work on in practice. So again, it’s a good answer to my question.
[Pause] Now I don’t want to keep you much longer, so let’s talk real quickly about those expectations moving forward. The success you had as a rookie will bring more of a spotlight. The obvious question here is if you feel any extra pressure to perform because you know more scouts are watching. But put it into your own words for other scouts; how do you want to handle this situation and the added exposure?
ZF: “Well last year on our team, there were a lot of top prospects on the team, like all the guys that were drafted this year. There were as many scouts last year as there will be this year, so I mean, to me, it’s not a dramatic situation. It’s just something that happens, and it’s part of the game. To me it’s just external distractions, so it’s not going to change anything. As soon as I get to the rink, I just want to contribute to the team’s success, so I’ll just be focused on the main task. It’s just people in the stands, it’s nothing.”
JG: I know this is a tough closer because you’re a modest guy and still developing every day, but what are one or two of your finest traits as a goaltender? How can scouts know you’re at the top of your game?
ZF: “I’m not a very stressed guy, so I try to stay as cool as possible and try to have a calm influence on the rest of the team so they are reassured, you know? I try to make tough saves look easy. I guess something else is — and this is attached to having a calm demeanor — but I try to be really patient and not move for nothing. I try to be efficient in my movements and whenever I have to do something, then I do it. I don’t try to over-do things, I just try to make things as simple as possible. I want to limit my movements so that I can be square to the puck and make sure I don’t complicate my game. When I’m patient, it helps me to limit my movements, and that’s one of the reasons why people say I make saves look easy.”
The Goalie Guild would like to thank Zach for his time, and the Halifax Mooseheads for providing us with action photos.