William Douglas has been writing The Color of Hockey blog for the past seven years. Douglas joined NHL.com in March, and will be writing about people of color in the game. Today, he profiles goalie prospect Isaiah Saville.
All Isaiah Saville had in his stomach was toast and butterflies.
The stomach bug he caught at the World Junior A Challenge in December limited Saville's diet just before the 18-year-old goalie for Tri-City of the United States Hockey League faced Russia in the gold medal game in Bonneyville, Alberta.
"I had an enormous amount of butterflies in my stomach, and I was the most nervous I had ever been in my entire life," Saville said. "They were good nerves, they weren't bad nerves."
The U.S. won the game 2-0, a 25-save high point of a season that saw Saville earn an invitation to USA Hockey's World Junior and National Team Goaltending Camp that began Thursday and be named the USHL's 2019 Goaltender of the Year in April after being the league's top goalie statistically during the regular season.
"A guy like Saville has proven himself, he got Tri-City to the (USHL) Western Conference final," said Thomas Speer, USA Hockey's national goalie coach. "As a young goalie he's just proven to be somebody we should be watching as a possible goaltender for our world junior team"
Saville (6-foot-1, 190 pounds) had a strong rookie season with Tri-City, finishing 25-4-3 with a 1.90 goals-against average, a .925 save percentage and four shutouts. The Anchorage, Alaska, native is No. 13 on NHL Central Scouting's final rankings of North American goalies for the 2019 NHL Draft.
Saville was the only goalie in the USHL this season to allow an average of fewer than two goals a game. His save percentage was the league's second-best.
"My expectations for myself this year were to show off that I could be an elite goalie and put up the numbers that I put up and just show that the numbers that I put up aren't a fluke," Saville said.
Tri-City coach Anthony Noreen said there was nothing fluky about Saville's performance, which helped the team to a league-best 95 points (45-12-3) in the regular season. Sioux Falls eliminated Tri-City from the Clark Cup Playoffs.
"There's no doubt that he has a chance to play at the next level," Noreen said. "He's got a chance to play in the American (Hockey League) and push for an NHL slot. He's had a pretty good trajectory. Here's a kid that played in the North American Hockey League a year ago and here he is a year later and he's leading the USHL in pretty much every statistical category, winning international events and continuing to impress."
Saville dipped to No. 13 in NHL Central Scouting rankings among North American goalies from No. 8 at midseason. Noreen attributed the drop to a concussion that Saville sustained in February and Tri-City's approach in handling his return from the injury, as well as the playoffs.
"We were in the fortunate position that we didn't have to rush him back, and we wouldn't have anyway with that type of injury," he said. "Isaiah missed about a month. And we did a little bit of research on some teams in our league, and the NHL, it's pretty hard to ride one goaltender and play him in the majority of your games for him to still be fresh come playoff time. That was a big part with Isaiah. We wanted him to be fresh."
Saville said missing playing time may have contributed to the rankings slide, but he's not worried about it.
"It really comes down to what the teams want," he said. "I don't think a lot of NHL teams really think too much about rankings. It's more of who they want and who they like the most, so I try not to think about it too much."
USA Hockey wasn't worried either. It invited Saville to join eight other goalies at the camp, including National Team Development Program teammates Spencer Knight (6-foot-3, 192 pounds), NHL Central Scouting's top-rated North American goalie, and Cameron Rowe (6-foot-2, 203 pounds), who is ranked No. 4. The two played for the U.S. team that won the bronze medal at the IIHF Under-18 World Championship in Sweden last month.
But Speer said Saville has something extra going for him.
"I think he's a great goalie," Speer said of Saville. "One thing that's interesting about him is he's a full right goalie, he's a southpaw. Those goalies can be deceiving, and it adds a lot of value to teams to have a goalie like that."
The University of Nebraska-Omaha hopes to find that out this fall. Saville is committed to play for Nebraska-Omaha, a member of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
"It just felt like the right place. I committed there a couple of years ago," he said. "They're very welcoming. It's a good school and a great campus."
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