MONTREAL - Zachary Fucale was headed into the relative unknown when he accepted an invitation to represent Canada at the Spengler Cup, but he feels privileged to have experienced it first-hand.
While the majority of Canadians were paying close attention to Team Canada's performances at the World Junior Hockey Championship at the end of December, another group of players was proudly sporting the maple leaf and representing the country on the other side of the pond.
Even though he was enjoying an excellent start to the season with the Brampton Beast, Fucale didn't expect to receive a call to join the Canadian contingent for the 90th edition of the annual tournament. That's why he reached out to his former St. John's IceCaps teammate, Bud Holloway, to learn more about what awaited him in Davos, Switzerland.
"Honestly, I was a little bit surprised that an ECHL player could play in the tournament. I thought it was strictly for players in Europe. But, at the same time, I was very honored and very happy to get the call," admitted the 21-year-old Canadiens prospect, who is currently in his second pro season.
"I knew that the Spengler Cup was an annual event and that players had a lot of advertising on their uniforms," added Fucale. "Bud Holloway, who I played with last year, told me that it was a really nice experience and that I wouldn't regret it."
Fucale was one of three goaltenders - along with Drew MacIntyre and Jordon Cooke - to be selected for the Canadian squad. Nothing had been promised to the Laval native in terms of playing time, especially with MacIntyre returning to the fold after leading them to the title the year before.
But, after a 7-4 loss in the tournament opener, head coach Luke Richardson decided to make a change between the pipes and he called upon the young netminder to suit up. Before even receiving the news, though, Fucale was ready to go. After all, he'd already played in his fair share of do-or-die games over the course of his career.
"I didn't expect to play the majority of the games, knowing that Drew participated in the tournament the previous three years. In any event, though, you always have to be ready. You don't get a second chance. At the World Juniors, when you're in the medal round, you don't get a second chance. At the Spengler Cup, there isn't a second opportunity. It's the same thing at the Memorial Cup. You have to be ready to go, regardless of your role," stressed Fucale, who claimed gold at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament in 2012, won the Memorial Cup in 2013, and secured a World Junior crown in 2015 as well.
"The fact that I'd already had the chance to participate in tournaments with a similar format motivated me because I knew just how special an experience it was to win them. But, I'd also come out on the losing end of these type of events. I learned important lessons when I won, but I also learned important lessons when I lost," added Fucale.
Led by Fucale's stellar play - going undefeated in four starts - Team Canada made their way to the championship game where they bested HC Lugano 5-2 to win the Spengler Cup. Fucale offered up his best performance of the tournament, turning aside 40 of 42 shots against to register the win.
It really was the perfect ending to the event for the former second-round selection. His experience over the course of the last week of 2016 was one he'll never forget. The atmosphere inside Vaillant Arena, in particular, really caught his eye.
"It was an incredible experience. The arena was truly unique. There was a section behind the net where people stand the entire game. They don't have any room to move and they're very loud. It's a little bit like soccer - they sing, they dance and they cheer the whole game. The atmosphere was really something. Playing games in that type of environment is really unique," said Fucale, on the subject of the 7,080-seat facility.
Now back in Brampton, Fucale is primed to begin the second half of the season with the Beast, who currently sit second in the ECHL's North Division. After going through some ups and downs with the IceCaps to start the year and being assigned to the Beast, he's managed to rebound quite effectively. For the last few months, Fucale has been among the League's top goaltenders in several categories. Returning from Europe with some brand new hardware has also boosted his confidence for what lies ahead.
"This experience will give me a good boost as the season goes on. When playoffs come around, the atmosphere I experienced in Davos will come right back to me, a bit like the tournament. The more pressure there is, the more you want to perform to the best of your abilities," concluded Fucale, who boasts a 12-4-0 record in 20 outings with the Beast. "Things are going very well for me in Brampton. I'm really excited for everything to come. I just want to continue improving and I think the Spengler Cup really helped me with that.