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Zachary Fucale just wants to play

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Whether it’s in Laval or Brampton, the young goaltender sees every game as a new opportunity.

(Robyn Iwaskiw/Brampton Beast) 20161030 Fucale 3 Robyn Iwaskiw/Brampton Beast

Zachary Fucale just completed his fourth stint of the season with the ECHL’s Brampton Beast, once again recalled to the American Hockey League’s Laval Rocket, where a trio of goaltenders battle for limited game time.

The season was not supposed to go this way for the Laval-native, who was looking forward to playing in front of his hometown crowd, pushing incumbent Charlie Lindgren for games, while rookie Michael McNiven got some starts in Brampton.

That’s at least how the start of the season shaped up, however an injury to Carey Price early on caused a ripple effect, and McNiven found himself in Laval a lot sooner than planned. While there, he slowly began to gain his coach’s trust, and once Price returned and the goaltending depth was meant to return to normal, it was Fucale who found himself headed to Brampton.

“At the end of the day, I just want to play some hockey”, Fucale said after the Beast’s home game on Sunday. “That’s what I do, that’s what I grew up to do, and happy to be able to play here with the guys. We’re playing some good hockey right now, and we just have to stick with it.”

If Fucale took his Brampton assignment poorly, you wouldn’t be able to tell from his demeanour.

On the ice, he cheered his teammates on, tapping sticks, exchanging encouragements, and always maintaining and resetting his positioning. Off the ice, he spoke of his personal developmental requirements, but the conversation always drifted back to the team’s play, showing a level of support and inclusion of the team he’s currently with.

“Every single game I’m playing I feel I’m making a big step. I feel that this season I have been more prepared to play than ever. I feel better on the ice than ever. I just need to stick with it, keep practising hard, and whenever I’m in Laval, take the extra time to work on the little things, and it shows in these games. It’s going pretty good here, I’m a bit upset [about an overtime loss], but we’ll move on.”

The Brampton Beast, currently still the official ECHL affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens and Laval Rocket, are sitting outside of a playoff spot, but continue to climb, earning a single point in three consecutive game, all from overtime losses. Sunday’s game against the Reading Royals was especially painful given that they are the team that the Beast are chasing for the final playoff spot.

Fucale has played some great hockey for the Beast of late, in between his stints in Laval, but in his two starts this past weekend he allowed a goal on the first shot of the game.

“There’s a lot of hockey left to play. Sometimes there’s no explanation, sometimes it’s a thing that happens. Could I have stopped it? Sure, there’s always something I can do. But that’s the way it happened this weekend.

“But after that I believe that we came back strong, and had a good rest of the first period and kept building from there. Whether they score in the first minute or the 26th minute, a goal’s a goal.”

The Beast did in fact come back, even taking the lead twice, before falling in overtime 4-3 to the Royals. As for the game-winner which was a glove-side shot in overtime from the faceoff circle Fucale was quick to accept the blame, but also to push it out of mind.

“I’m going to take that one like a man and say that’s on me, but we just need to move on from that. There’s a lot of good things for our team tonight. We got a point again, but we definitely got better tonight. It wasn’t my best night.”

As to whether he feels he took a step back in his development this year, and if he tends to overthink things on the ice: “I say to myself whatever happens in a game, fight hard, play hard, and after the game you’ll have time to look back to see what happened. There’s no time to think about it during the game about what just happened. You let it slide and you continue to try and win the game.”

When you talk to anyone about Fucale, the common theme is that the young player has an exemplary attitude and work ethic, a characteristic that allowed him to win the AHL Man on the Year Award in his rookie season with the St. John’s IceCaps. But Fucale, ever the level-headed individual, did not allow this compliment to go unchecked, providing a valuable life truth.

“There’s a lot to be positive about, but at the end of the day there are things to not be positive about. Sometimes it’s tough, and you can’t hide from those things because it’s not better to ignore those times. You gotta go through them, sometimes things aren’t the best, but there’s an opportunity in everything.”

Fucale is cognizant of his situation, but displays the kind of positive mentality that makes it hard to bet against the goaltender’s long-term success, even as he battles through a difficult period in his young professional career.