Sam Brittain and Evan Cowley have a few things in common. Both are Florida Panthers goaltending prospects, both have patrolled the nets for the University of Denver Pioneers and both were selected with the 92nd overall pick in their respective NHL draft years, Brittain in 2010 and Cowley three years later in 2013.
Their similar paths have proven beneficial for both players as the duo spent the 2013-14 season together at the University of Denver where Brittain, a senior and the de facto starter, served as a valuable mentor to the freshman Cowley. This setup worked wonders. Brittain submitted a stellar senior season that saw him lead the Pioneers to a National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) Championship while being named the NCHC goalie of the year, a first team NCHC all-star and a finalist for the Mike Richter Award which is presented annually to the nation’s top collegiate goaltender. Cowley, meanwhile, impressed in his role as Brittain’s primary back-up, appearing in five games while posting a 1.76 GAA and a .949 save percentage. Things went just as well off the ice where the two Panthers prospects formed a close relationship.
“We became pretty good friends last year,” Brittain said. “We roomed on the road together and worked together every day.”
For Cowley, the older and more experienced Brittain proved to be an invaluable resource guiding him through many of the transitions that follow joining the NCAA ranks and being selected in an NHL Draft.
“He’s a great pal of mine and the relationship we had this year was very very cool for me,” Cowley said. “He taught me a lot over the year. He knows the tricks of the trade and he’s very generous in talking me through things. It’s been a great experience getting to know him.”
While they formed a successful tandem last season in Denver, the Panthers goalie prospects will not be playing together next season. Following his senior year with the Pioneers, Brittain signed an entry level contract with the Panthers which means he will be plying his trade in the professional ranks next season. With Brittain moving on to the next level, the door is open for Cowley to seize the starting goalie job for a University of Denver squad that should be very competitive moving forward. Playing with an underclassmen heavy roster last season, the Pioneers made a surprise run to an NCHC Championship victory. They followed up that title with a trip to the NCAA tournament where they fell to Boston College in the first round. After only graduating a handful of seniors last year, Cowley is bullish on his team’s outlook for the future.
“We are going to be real solid,” Cowley said. “Only losing a couple of guys and the guys returning now have some experience and are looking good. We are confident we are going to have a good season here and hopefully I can be a big part of that.”
Both Brittain and Cowley were in attendance at the Panthers July development camp but their paths diverged from there. While Brittain is preparing for his first NHL training camp, Cowley is wrapping up a whirlwind year with an appearance at USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp. That whirlwind year began at the 2013 NHL Draft when he was drafted by the Panthers as a 17-year-old. Since then he has completed his freshman year at Denver, and participated in two Florida Panthers development camps. Now at the US Junior Evaluation Camp (which runs through August 9) Cowley is competing against some of the best young American players, as well as against top young talents from traditional hockey powers like Finland, Sweden and Czech Republic.
Against this stiff competition, Cowley has performed quite nicely, continuing the trend of rising to the challenge each time the level of competition is increased. Through Monday, Cowley has stopped 35 of 40 shots faced, and has looked primed for a strong sophomore campaign with the Pioneers. Panthers Director of Scouting Scott Luce, who is in attendance at the camp, has been impressed with Cowley’s continued growth.
“He is making cleaner saves and doing a good job of limiting rebounds and secondary scoring chances,” Luce said. “His positive attitude and work ethic is paying off as he has shown us and the other scouts in attendance that he is ready to take the next step in his development. We look forward to seeing Evan play at Denver this season.”
Whatever successes lie ahead for Cowley and the University of Denver Pioneers, they will be achieved without the graduated Brittain. In their one season as college teammates the duo of Panthers prospects formed a mutually beneficial relationship that helped advance the development of both players. As one Panthers prospect moves on, another is there to take his place. Brittain, for his part, looks forward to teaming up with Cowley again sometime in the future.
“Hopefully one day down the road we will be teammates again because we are such good friends right now.”