Surrey Eagles rely on netminder in hunt for title
First thing’s first, Gary Nylund wants to make one thing clear about goaltenders.
“You know they’re all crazy, right?” the Surrey Eagles assistant coach, and former National Hockey League defenceman, laughs as he laces his skates before practice Tuesday.
“They have a... unique mental makeup, some of them.”
When it comes to Eagles’ starting netminder Andrew Hunt, however, Nylund quickly backs off his original claim.
“Nah, I’m just kidding. He’s a real good kid.”
And while Hunt may be more level-headed than some who mind the crease, he’s been playing out of his mind for much of the BC Hockey League season, helping boost the Eagles to a first-place perch in the Coastal Conference.
The 19-year-old Surrey native has been the busiest BCHL netminder this season. He is first in games-played and minutes-played, and he’s third among starters in save-percentage (.920) and among the league-leaders in goals-against (2.78). His 27 wins place him only behind Penticton’s Michael Garteig, who has 39 victories on a Vees squad that’s lost just three games all year.
In fact, even with all the depth the Eagles have on the roster, and the success they’ve had thus far, Nylund says Hunt has been the team’s key player.
“We’ve got a good team, so I hate to say that we’re only as good as our goalie, but on many nights this year, we have been,” he says.
“Our goalie coach (Rob Fuchs) doesn’t praise many goalies the way he praises Hunt. And he’s earned that praise.”
High praise for a goaltender who is in just his second year playing junior ‘A’ hockey, and his first season as a starter. And it’s not just Nylund and head coach/GM Matt Erhart who see Hunt’s talent; last week, the goaltender agreed to a scholarship with NCAA Div. 1 Clarkson University, in New York.
“I thought the scholarship offer was a long time coming, to be honest with you,” said Fuchs, who has known Hunt since the netminder was 13 years old. “I can’t believe it took as long as it did for some school to make him an offer.”
Hunt, who had a handful of college suitors, said he chose Clarkson because not only is it a good school, he would also be given a chance to earn playing time right away; Clarkson’s two current goaltenders graduate this spring.
“It’s just a good fit,” Hunt added.
And though Hunt is only in his first year as Surrey’s starter, it’s generally agreed upon among the coaches that spending last season as a backup was paramount to his development.
Hunt began last season playing behind Vinny Lessard, but Lessard was released midway through the year and replaced by Karel St. Laurent, a veteran who’d spent the previous two season with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Saint John Sea Dogs.
“I think the main thing he learned from Karel was how hard to work in practice. I guess that was the one knock on Andrew last year – his intensity and work ethic in practice,” said Erhart, who coached Hunt in major-midget before joining the Eagles’ coaching staff.
“But he’s improved on that. He got off to a good start at the beginning of the season and he’s just kept progressing. He’s been extremely consistent. There’s only been a few games in all the starts he’s had where you look bad and see bad goals, or maybe one’s he’d like back.”
Hunt agrees that the year spent practising and watching St. Laurent, all while patiently waiting for his opportunity, was worth it.
“It was just the way Karel prepared. Not even just game days, either. The day before, he was getting ready, watching video – he knew who every (opposing shooter) was,” he said.
Hunt has played in 45 of the Eagles’ 51 games so far this season, and though Erhart said he’d like to give his starter a break to ensure he’s fresh for the playoffs, the standings are too close not to have the No. 1 guy between the pipes.
“You talk to any starting goalie, and they want to play every single game. That goes for Andrew, too – he’s a competitive kid.”
But whether or not Hunt gets a break over the season’s last three weeks or not, Nylund trusts that his starter – who is backed up by Conor Barrie this season – will be able to lead Surrey on a deep playoff run, even if he is a little quieter or more reserved than some other goalies he’s come across through the years.
“He’s pretty calm, but an interesting fella, and we couldn’t be happier with him. We think we’ve got a guy who can take us to the end here.”