BROSSARD - It's safe to say that Zachary Fucale had an eventful 2016-17, full of highs, lows, and big challenges to overcome.
In just one season, the 22-year-old netminder played for the ECHL's Brampton Beast, the AHL's Saint John's IceCaps, at the Spengler Cup - where he helped Canada emerge as tournament champions - and in the NHL, serving as Carey Price's backup during an emergency recall in March.
Despite his strong finish, things didn't get off to a great start for the former second rounder.. Almost a year ago, Fucale's plans were temporarily derailed when he was relegated to the ECHL ranks, instead of continuing what he had started the previous season in the AHL in Newfoundland.
After taking a bit of time to process and adapt to the setback, the Rosemere native decided to roll up his sleeves and turn challenge into opportunity.
"It was definitely tough for me mentally to get sent down to Brampton, but in the end I realized the value I could take out of this as a player and as a person with the experience," admitted Fucale. "I was able to play lots of games, which is really helpful for a goalie."
Fucale spent 46 games in the crease for the Beast, putting up a 25-12-2 record and posting four shutouts.
Then came his unexpected trip to Switzerland for the Spengler Cup. It may have all happened very fast, but Fucale was able to take full advantage of the adventure.
"It was quite the experience and it's going to help me moving forward, 100 percent. After that, I was able to go straight up to the Canadiens for a few days, which was also unexpected," he recalled. "Once again, it was an invaluable experience. It's fun to get to do those kinds of things early in your career and the more of those experiences I get, the more it'll help me when I get my chance at the next level."
The puckstopper feels armed with a renewed confidence and a positive attitude after successfully overcoming all the hurdles thrown his way last year.
"It was an eventful year. I had a good playoffs and I'm happy with how things went. Good things, bad things, challenges to overcome, it ran the full gamut last year," mentioned Fucale. "Getting through all the tougher parts has given me confidence moving forward to take on new situations, a new season."
Fucale is clear about his ultimate goal: he wants to play for the Canadiens. But he realizes the competition is stiff between the pipes in Montreal. The Habs' pantry is full of promising goaltending talent, with Carey Price - now locked in with Montreal for the next nine seasons - seated firmly at the top of the heap. Not that any of that will act as a deterrent to the 6-foot-2, 187-pounder.
"I'll never say no to a challenge. Never. It's a good thing for the organization, but also for me internally, to have non-stop competition. It's the same thing across the NHL. It's a challenge and you just have to be ready for whenever the opportunity will arise," declared Fucale, a former teammate of Jonathan Drouin's with the Halifax Mooseheads. "Just prepare non-stop for when your chance will come, you take it, you go with it, you play, and you stop those pucks."
Instead of seeing the Habs' current All-World starter as an obstacle blocking his path to the Montreal crease, Fucale sees a chance to work with Price and take in as much as he can from the elite netminder.
"Not a lot of goalies get the chance to learn from Carey Price. There are a few of us young guys and we've been able to watch him play, learn from him learn from all his experience - whether at the Olympics, in the playoffs, or coming back from an injury," he explained. "We can learn from all that without going through it and it'll make a big difference. The chance to learn is there, but if we don't take advantage of it, it won't help anything."
That said, Fucale doesn't want to be a Carey Price clone.
"I wouldn't say that I want to totally model my game after him, because you can learn from everyone. There's no mold you have to fit into. But you know he's been successful, so he's certainly doing something right," added Fucale with a laugh. "Of all the things he's doing right, I have to figure out which ones work for me, for my body, with my style of play. At the end of the day, it's about learning from everyone and also learning about yourself."
At the start of the summer, Fucale took some time to review his game with members of the organization in order to identify areas that needed work. His goal over the past few months has been to push his limits as far as possible.
"I want to get to camp ready to keep progressing and show that I'm improving and that I can play at the next level. It's a process for a goalie. Whether it be physical, mental, or technical, I really want to work on each facet of my game to get to the next level and prove that I deserve a shot in the NHL," he concluded. "It's not easy, but the summertime is when you work on those things and I can't wait to get to camp to show that I'm headed in the right direction."