MONTREAL – A few days after helping Canada reclaim gold, Zachary Fucale is ready to begin his quest to secure another prestigious honour.
The pressure on the shoulders of Team Canada’s young stars during the World Junior Hockey Championship was enormous. In addition to the tournament being played on home soil in Montreal and Toronto, Benoit Groulx’s troops were expected to deliver on high expectations as Canadians hadn’t seen a Junior contingent reach the top of the podium since 2009.
A member of the Team Canada contingent that earned a fourth place finish in 2014, Fucale wanted to do everything possible to forget the team’s disappointing result last year. Needless to say, he accomplished that goal, standing tall between the pipes and playing a big part in helping his country secure its first gold medal in five years.
“I don’t think I’ve realized the magnitude of what we achieved just yet. It’s not only the fact that it’s important in Canada, but it’s really incredible to see how people reacted. It’s just so hard to describe,” admitted Fucale, who finished the tournament with a perfect 5-0-0 record in five starts, a 1.20 goals-against average and a .939 save percentage. “We were a very united team this year. We all had the same goal in mind and we were all on the same wavelength. It was incredible to see. Honestly, we’re all going to remember this for the rest of our lives because everybody sacrificed themselves for one another and we all had confidence in one another. I feel very lucky to have been a part of this team.”
When the gold medal was placed around his neck at the Air Canada Centre, the 19-year-old netminder tasted the fruits of his extensive labor with the Team Canada program over the last few years. In addition to the time he’d spent getting ready for the season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Fucale also spent a lot of time with Hockey Canada personnel and some of Canada’s top Junior players in different camps and competitions.
“It’s a long process and Hockey Canada did excellent work keeping us together almost every year. It starts at the Under-17 tournament, then at the Under-18 Ivan Hlinka tournament where we won gold in 2012. At least half of the team we had back then was at the World Junior Hockey Championship this year,” explained Fucale. “There were also a lot of players back from last year. We’d known each other for a long time and we were well coached. We were all on the same page and we were given the tools necessary to become a team from the start.”
Fucale’s most recent visit to Montreal afforded him the opportunity to demonstrate his goaltending prowess in front of friends and family. It also gave him a chance to strut his stuff in front of his future fans and bosses as he plied his trade at the Bell Centre a few times. While he’d already tended goal in an NHL preseason game and an intra-squad scrimmage at the Canadiens’ home rink several months ago in front of a packed house, his World Junior experience in his home province was something the 2013 second-round selection will never forget.
|Fucale (right) savored winning gold at the World Junior Hockey Championship alongside netminder Eric Comrie. |
“It was totally incredible. It was a great atmosphere. The fans in the stands encouraged us from start to finish. It really helped us and it gave us energy,” confided Fucale, who registered a shutout and gave up just one goal in two outings at the Bell Centre. “Dustin Tokarski, Stephane Waite and Martin Lapointe all reached out to me after the win. I was really happy they thought of me.”
After enjoying a few days off to rest and recharge his batteries, Fucale is set to return to action with his new QMJHL club, the Quebec Remparts, who acquired him in a trade on December 19. If he’s pleased to be joining one of the league’s top teams, he’s equally excited to have been guaranteed a shot at participating in the Memorial Cup for the second time in his career with the host team.
While he prefers to focus on his first game with the Remparts, which will take place on Wednesday night at the Colisee Pepsi, he knows expectations are high. Just as he did at the World Junior Hockey Championship, Fucale will undoubtedly set those distractions aside and focus solely on the task at hand.
“I feel very lucky to be a part of the Remparts. I’m very excited for it to begin. I’m also looking forward to the Memorial Cup. That’s for sure. It’s going to happen in Quebec. That’s a done deal. We don’t have to think about it because no matter what happens, we’re going to be talked about,” offered Fucale, who claimed the prestigious trophy with the Halifax Mooseheads back in 2013. “I’m sure the Remparts want to win the President’s Cup trophy before that. It will be a big challenge, but that’s why we play hockey. I’m in a nice situation right now. Quebec is a nice city and the fans are very passionate. I’m excited to get this part of the season going.”
Hugo Fontaine is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Matt Cudzinowski.