TORONTO, ON — On March 15th, the Montreal Canadiens announced that their AHL affiliate, the Hamilton Bulldogs, would be relocated to become the St. John’s IceCaps as the Bulldogs transition into an OHL franchise. Following that switch, the Canadiens announced that they would have a new ECHL affiliate for the 2015-16 season: the Brampton Beast.
Having the Beast coming in for the 2015-16 season as the Canadiens full ECHL affiliate (unlike their previous affiliation with the Wheeling Nailers, which was shared with Pittsburgh) comes in handy in regards to the internal goaltending competition between Mike Condon, Eddie Pasquale (AHL contract) and first-year professional Zach Fucale.
The St. John’s IceCaps will almost surely go with Mike Condon as the starter for the upcoming season; he had a fantastic first year in Wheeling in 2013-14 and followed it up with a very solid campaign for Hamilton last season. In Hamilton, Condon split starts with Joey MacDonald to earn the trust of head coach Sylvain Lefebvre, and as a fourth-year professional, he is likely the best bet for the IceCaps at this point if they hope to make some noise next season.
St. John’s backup
Both Zach Fucale and Eddie Pasquale are quality netminders: Fucale is coming out of the Quebec Remparts organization after a run in the Memorial Cup that fell short. He won a World Junior gold medal with Team Canada in January to complete his fantastic junior career, wherein he set franchise records for the Halifax Mooseheads.
Pasquale was a fourth round pick by the Atlanta Thrashers in 2009 after an OHL career with the Saginaw Spririt and the Belleville Bulls. Pasquale has both ECHL and AHL experience primarily with the St. John’s IceCaps (as part of the Winnipeg Jets organization.) With the IceCaps, he posted solid numbers and was a fan favorite.
I strongly believe that Zach Fucale should get the starting job in the ECHL due to the following reasons:
Pros of Zach Fucale starting the season in Brampton
- Going into his first professional season, it is imperative that the Canadiens closely monitor Fucale while he gets prime starts to adjust to the professional game.
- Fucale’s numbers in his final junior year were sub-par: therefore, it’s important for him to work on his game in the less-competitive ECHL and gain confidence before heading to St. John’s.
- The most important thing is for him not to be rushed into the NHL. Heading to the show before he is ready could be very detrimental towards any goalie’s development.
- The Canadiens have good goaltending depth at each level, giving him time to work on his game in the starting role and not sporadically as a backup in the AHL.
Pros for Eddie Pasquale claiming the backup role in St. John’s
- Pasquale has significant experience at the AHL level (in St. John’s), giving Lefebvre solid depth in case of Condon needing a rest.
- At 24 years old, Pasquale may not have the ceiling of Fucale but is further along in his development.
- An internal competition between Pasquale and Condon for the starter’s role down the road in St.John’s, providing coach Lefebvre with a good option with either minding the net.
- Pasquale can be signed to an NHL contract by the Canadiens in case of injuries and step into the NHL level to backup or even start if need be. He has professional experience and is all-around solid.
For all three of Pasquale, Condon, and Fucale, making the playoffs will be a huge goal. Good development along with strong playoff appearances will be crucial for not only them, but also both the IceCaps and the Beast. The netminders can be an integral part of a winning culture in the minor leagues; just look at Carey Price when he won the Calder Cup with the Hamilton Bulldogs in 2007. He’s gone on to win World Junior gold, Olympic gold, and the Vezina, Hart, and Ted Lindsay awards in 2014-15. Winning at the minor level with hard work and great guidance goes a long way in hockey.
- Carey Price – NHL Starter
- Dustin Tokarski – NHL Backup
- Mike Condon – AHL Starter
- Eddie Pasquale – AHL Backup
- Zach Fucale – ECHL Starter
- Hayden Hawkey – Junior (Providence College, NCAA)
When it comes down to it, both Pasquale and Fucale possess the tools to become successful NHL goaltenders; it will simply take time. The Canadiens have a 28 year old Carey Price for the present and future, so there is tons of time for both of Fucale and Pasquale to work on their game in the minors and be completely seasoned by the time the NHL comes calling.
My final prediction on how the year will roll out is Mike Condon has the starting job in St. John’s, Eddie Pasquale stays as the backup behind Condon in St. John’s, and Zach Fucale stays the year in Brampton as the team’s starter.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!