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No rest for CHL goalies in back-to-backs, heavy workload just normal life


Prince Albert Raiders goaltender Ian Scott found that out last season when he started all three games on a weekend road trip through Alberta just how much of a grind the major junior hockey season can be for a starting netminder.

He began on a Friday night in Red Deer, continued to Medicine Hat for a contest on Saturday, and made a final stop  in Calgary on Sunday. Two games went to overtime and the one in Calgary was an afternoon start. The Toronto Maple Leafs prospect logged 184:37 of ice time in less than 48 hours while helping his team pick up five of a possible six points. 

"I don't remember it, but I feel like I've done it," said the 19-year-old Calgary native, who is in his fourth season with the Western Hockey League's Raiders, third as their starter.

"Three-in-threes are probably one of the toughest things to do, especially if you are on the road. But you learn to take care of yourself."

In 2017-18, there were 23 goalies across the Canadian Hockey League that played in at least 75 per cent of their teams' contests. Evan Cormier of the Ontario Hockey League's Saginaw Spirit led all goalies by appearing in 89 per cent of his team's games, 61 of 68 regular-season contests.

The trend in the NHL over the past few seasons has been to ease the workload on starting goaltenders, with preservation leading to positive results in the standings. 

Splitting duties in back-to-back situations is one of the biggest changes in recent years as stats say never start the same goalie two nights in a row, but the CHL isn't quite as strategic, especially with development being the No. 1 concern for players and majority of its schedule crammed into weekends.

"So many variables go into how we split playing time, but if you have a bonafide No. 1 goaltender then there's no question they should be able to handle two in a row," said Hamilton Bulldogs goaltender coach Nick Grainger.

Last season, Grainger worked with Kaden Fulcher, a Detroit Red Wings prospect who played in 55 regular-season games and 21 more in the playoffs en route to winning the OHL title. 

"We did a good job as a team preparing him to play a lot of games last year," said Grainger. "We made him understand how hard it was going to be to carry that type of workload, how hard of a grind it is to play three in a row."

Scott, who was selected by the Leafs 110th overall in the 2017 NHL draft, started 13 back-to-backs last season amongst his 50 games and would have started more if an injury didn't take away a month of ice time for him in November.

He went 8-4-0 with a .900 save percentage in the front end, while he was 6-5-1 with an .891 save percentage in the back end. Scott was 24-16-6 overall with a 3.10 goals-against average and .897 save percentage.

This year, Prince Albert has 19 back-to-back games on its calendar.

"Personally I think it's harder to be the backup, sitting on the bench maybe a couple weeks obviously sucks," said Scott. "Being the guy to go to is what I enjoy the most."

Former Kelowna Rockets goaltender Kelly Guard, who served as Prince Albert's goalie coach in 2017-18, says it's not always easy telling a junior goalie to take a seat, especially if he is feeling good.

"They're teenagers, sometimes they think if you say they're not ready to play that it's a bad thing but really it's not. The more mature players will be honest and tell you the truth but for the most part they just want to play."

Guard started 62 of 72 games for Kelowna in 2003-04 and says it wasn't until his career was over that he realized how tiring that season was.

"You don't really think about it when you're in it, but now looking back you're exhausted," he said. 

"I was kind of lucky, I didn't get a lot of shots each game but just the mental load of being ready every game for 60 minutes. It's a different mental approach than a defenceman or forward. Looking back I think I was a little drained when playoffs came along."

Alex D'Orio played 44 games last season with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Saint John Sea Dogs and says he thinks 45 to 50 starts a season is a good number with so much travel.

"At least 45. Fifty-five is a little too much because you'll be so tired," he said. "But you need to play even if you're tired a bit. You get used to it." 

Scott meanwhile, hopes to break the 60-game mark if allowed.

"No exact number for starts but I obviously want to play the majority of them."


AROUND THE CHL: Brandon Wheat Kings forward Luka Burzan, a 2019 NHL draft prospect, was named CHL player of the week after producing five goals and an assist in an 8-4 win over the Lethbridge Hurricanes on Sept. 29. The 18-year-old from Surrey, B.C., has eight points in three games to sit tied for third overall in WHL scoring.

— Luke Richardson of the Kitchener Rangers earned CHL goaltender of the week honours after stopping 64 of 66 shots to win back-to-back starts, keeping his team undefeated to start the year. The 19-year-old from Barrie, Ont., currently carries a league-best 1.33 goals-against average and .956 save percentage.

—As of Wednesday, the top 10 teams in the CHL rankings are: 1. Halifax (4-0-0); 2. London (2-1-0); 3. Lethbridge (2-2-0); 4. Prince Albert (5-0-0); 5. Edmonton (5-0-0); 6. Baie-Comeau (5-0-1); 7. Niagara (3-1-0); 8. Drummondville (2-2-0); 9. Spokane (2-1-1); 10. Kitchener (3-0-0).

— The WHL's Kelowna Rockets have been selected to host the 2020 Memorial Cup. They also hosted in 2004, the first and only time they have won the national championship. The 2019 tournament is in Halifax.


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Kyle Cicerella’s junior hockey notebook will be published every Thursday.


Kyle Cicerella, The Canadian Press

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