Zachary Fucale's professional career began with a tough season on the rock. Coming off one of the most successful junior careers any goalie has ever had, expectations were high for the former Montreal Canadiens second-round pick.
The rookie netminder was slated behind Carey Price, Mike Condon, and Dustin Tokarski at the start of training camp in Montreal, so it was expected that he would play the role of backup in St. John's. But after a season-ending injury to Price, the goaltending situation changed. The fallout led to Fucale playing in the majority of games for the IceCaps, on a team that was depleted of their star players for weeks and months at a time.
Someone who may not have seen the IceCaps play this season would be massively disappointed at Fucale's stats, at least at first glance. His 16-19-4-1 record is less than impressive, not to mention his 3.13 GAA, and .903 SV% that were good for 42nd and 37th respectively among AHL goaltenders. But the stats don't tell the full story.
For the majority of games throughout the season, the IceCaps were heavily outshot. Fucale was also tasked with playing behind a different defensive corps almost every night. In fact, 17 different players played on the back-end in front of him this season.
Much like the constantly changing roster in St. John's, the biggest problem Fucale faced through the course of the season was his consistency. After starting off the season with six wins in eight games, he cooled off in a big way, winning only four of his next 19 starts.
The month of February was his best. He had a four-game winning streak, a GAA of just over 2.30, a SV% of .921, and was awarded the CCM/AHL player of the week (Feb 7th-14th).
The inconsistency continued late into the season, as he won just two of his last 11 starts, and the IceCaps failed to make the playoffs.
Off the ice, Fucale set a tremendous example of what every organization wants in their players. Whether it be visiting schools, signing autographs for hours, or making someone's day by simply saying hello, Fucale was class all around. He was named as the IceCaps Man of the Year for his contributions within the community.
The difference between junior hockey and the AHL often catches players by surprise, for multiple reasons. The gruelling travel schedule, the experience of other players, and the general pace of the game. So it's not odd to see some rookies struggle with the transition to the pro game. As everyone knows, goaltenders generally take longer to develop than skaters, and Fucale is no different.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that he won't likely be seen in the NHL anytime soon. Another few years in the AHL are necessary for him. While the athleticism is there, his mental strength needs work. The addition of Charlie Lindgren - signed for next season and likely to play in St. John's - will add friendly competition for Fucale, and hopefully the two netminders will push each other to make the next level.