TORONTO -- Zach is back.
Goaltender Zachary Fucale is hoping to improve on his performance at the World Junior Championship a year ago in Sweden and hopes some of the lessons he learned will benefit his team when Canada hosts the tournament starting Dec. 26.
Canada placed fourth at the 2014 WJC.
"We learned a lot," Fucale said. "It was a tough loss, but now it's a new year and a new team, so we're looking forward to it. For me, there are a lot of things I have changed from last year. I have become better mentally, stronger physically, and technically everything has gotten better. I feel great coming to this event. It is a great opportunity, so I am just looking forward to the whole experience and living the moment."
Zachary Fucale was the top-ranked North American goalie for the 2013 NHL Draft. (Photo: Getty Images)
Fucale, 19, sported a 2-2 record in five games at the 2014 WJC with a 2.42 goals-against average and .901 save percentage.
The Laval, Quebec, native is in his fourth season with the Halifax Moosehead of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and was the QMJHL's rookie of the year in 2011-12, setting a league record for most victories by a freshman with 32. Fucale has registered 126 victories in his junior career and led the Mooseheads to the Memorial Cup championship in 2013, where he was named to the tournament all-star team with a 3.52 GAA and .902 save percentage.
Fucale also helped Canada capture the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup in the Czech Republic in 2012 and was the top-ranked North American goalie for the 2013 NHL Draft, in which he was picked in the second round (No. 36) by the Montreal Canadiens.
Being the experienced goalie among the two that were invited to camp -- Eric Comrie of the Tri-City Americans is the other -- might give Fucale a slight edge in terms of being the starter, but coach Benoit Groulx is not about to hand him the job.
"Well, we have Zach who has the experience, but we also have Comrie who is a pretty good goalie," Groulx said. "We feel we have two pretty good goalies and we're going to take the time to evaluate them here and see how it plays out. We have been evaluating them for two years and if we invited both of them here only, it is because we are very comfortable with them. It's going to be up to them to show us what they can do here."
Fucale is not intimidated by having only one other goalie to compete against for the starter's job. In fact, he thinks it is a healthy situation.
"It's always good to have competition," Fucale said. "Me and [Comrie] are both team players that just want to help the team win as much as we can. That's all there is to it. We go out there and compete real hard every day. That's all you can do."
Fucale added the fact Canada has only invited two goalies to camp relieves the stress of worrying about making the team.
"Now we know we can just take these practices and not worry about anything else and just prepare yourself mentally and physically and make sure we have a good feeling coming into the tournament," Fucale said.
Traditionally when Canada plays at the WJC in Europe, there is less media attention and the players have fewer distractions. When the tournament is played in North America, specifically in Canada, the pressure to succeed seems to be more intense.
"I think we're in the moment and there are so many things going on at the same time," Fucale said. "Staying as a team the whole time, just as if we were in another country, we're just as close here in Canada. It's no different. We just want to play our Canadian way. We won't change anything."
When Canada has enjoyed success at the WJC, often it has been because of great goaltending.
The list of goalies from Canada that have been voted to the tournament all-star team includes Steve Mason (2008), Carey Price (2007), Marc-Andre Fleury (2003), Pascal Leclaire (2002), Roberto Luongo (1999), Jose Theodore (1996), Manny Legace (1993), Stephane Fiset (1990), Jimmy Waite (1988) and Mike Moffat (1982).
Fucale would love to join the list.
"It is a great challenge," Fucale said. "Every time you have a chance to play at such an event it is a big challenge and I am really looking forward to it. It's going to be a lot of fun."