World junior championship: Fucale is ready and confident to start in goal for Canada vs. Slovakia

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Canada goaltender Zachary Fucale keeps an eye on the action during team practice at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships in Malmo, Sweden on Sunday December 29, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Frank Gunn
Canada goaltender Zachary Fucale keeps an eye on the action during team practice at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships in Malmo, Sweden on Sunday December 29, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Frank Gunn

MALMO, Sweden — No matter where he is in the world, Zach Fucale tries to be in bed at the same time every night. It’s just something he’s always done.

Even as a 16-year-old with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Halifax Mooseheads, it would take his roommates a little getting used to on road trips.

“Every night at 9:30 he’d turn the TV and the lights off and head to bed,” said Mooseheads teammate and former roommate on the road, Darcy Ashley. “I’d be sitting in the dark staring at the walls until midnight.”

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[World junior championship: Scores & schedule]

It’s all a part of Fucale’s attention to detail and preparation he puts into being game ready. It’s a part of his routine, but it’s definitely not part of any superstition – because he doesn’t believe in such things.

“He says superstitions are just a lack of confidence,” said Ashley, who has played with Fucale in Halifax for two and a half seasons. “That’s what he says.

“He’s the most prepared athlete I’ve ever seen in my life. The most committed athlete.”

Coming out to meet the media on Sunday morning in Malmo, Sweden, Fucale was as self-assured as usual. There’s a swagger about the 18-year-old that you would expect from a kid who had already backstopped his Mooseheads to both a Memorial Cup and a QMJHL championship.

“He’s a very confident, confident guy,” said Sutter. “He’s a goalie that has great ability - and listen – he’s won a Memorial Cup at a young age and he’s one of two very good goalies here and he’s going to get an opportunity to play (Monday).”

[Better late than never: It's Josh Anderson's time for Team Canada]

There’s a fine line between confidence and cocky and Fucale has always been the former rather than the latter. He’s the kind of kid who you can tell doesn’t take himself too seriously off the ice. Highly regarded in the dressing room, his teammates say he’s not afraid to be vocal.

“He’s the most talkative and positive person in the entire world,” said Ashley. “Sometimes he can be too positive - he always means well – but sometimes you just have to tell him to shut up. He’s one of those guys that if he was allowed to wear a letter he would have one on our hockey team.”

Fucale will get his first start of the tournament against Slovakia in favour of netminder Jake Paterson who was in net for Canada’s 5-4 shootout loss to the Czech Republic on Saturday. The second round pick of the Montreal Canadiens – 36th overall – said he was anxious to finally get his first taste of tournament play.

“I’m excited,” said Fucale. “It’s a great challenge and all the guys are excited about tomorrow we have a big game to bounce back and I’m excited.”

Canada at the world junior championship has always been under a microscope. The pressure to win gold has been at a constant despite the fact they haven’t finished first since 2009. Their unexpected loss to the Czech Republic has only ratcheted up the expectations for them to bounce back with dominant performance against the Slovaks.

[Team Canada handed wakeup call by upstart Czech Republic]

“This is a tournament with lots of adversity and that’s what we hit yesterday,” said Fucale. “And that’s fine. Yesterday wasn’t the quarter-finals and it wasn’t the final either – we’re happy we can regroup here and talk about it and come back tomorrow with a good performance.”

So how does Fucale deal with the pressure? Well, he doesn’t.

“It’s fun,” says Fucale.

Fun? Really?

“I think that’s one way to look at it,” explained Fucale. “You have to embrace (the pressure). We all want to be part of these situations. We all want to be in those big games.”

If history is any indication, no one does better in those big games than the native of Rosemere, Que. He’s won gold for Canada at the under-18s and even as a 16-year-old was helping the Mooseheads make an improbably playoff run, rallying from a 3-0 series deficit to upset the heavily favoured Quebec Remparts. In that post-season series, Fucale played in front of a sold-out crowd at the Colisee Pepsi and lead the Mooseheads to a 5-4 overtime victory in Game 7 by making 41 saves.

“He played on the road in Quebec City with more than 11,000 hostile fans chanting his name in the stands,” said Ashley. “It didn’t even bother him. That speaks worlds for him, to be 16 years old and to carry all that pressure.

“In a big game he’s the guy you want to shut the door.”

[World Junior Championship: Standings | Stats leaders | Teams ]

One of the most impressive things about Fucale is his poise, a trait he’s shown early in his career. This season, the 6-foot-2, 180-pound goalie has a 19-7 record with a 2.51 goals against average and .902 save percentage. Ashley says he’s rarely – if ever – seen his teammate panic or get down after allowing a bad goal.

“I’ve been here for as long as he’s been here (in Halifax) and I can’t say I’ve ever seen him been thrown off his game,” said Ashley, 20. “There are games where he’d like to have some shots back, sure, but I’ve never seen him ever cost us a game because he’s been rattled. He can let in two goals on two shots and then make the next 30 saves – nothing really phases the kid.”

Team Canada teammate Matt Dumba, said he doesn’t expect the defence corps to react differently now that Fucale is starting in net. He says they’re still confident in both netminders.

“We’ve played well with both of them in preseason competition,” said Dumba, who also noted he was feeling better after being under the weather with a virus. “Zach plays the puck very well and that sometimes makes it easier for a defenceman.”

For his part, Fucale says he’s not trying to look too far ahead, even though Sutter hasn’t committed to who will start the New Year’s Eve game against Team USA. In his characteristic nonchalant manner, he says he’ll be ready to go whenever he’s called upon to save Canada.

“I’m just going to get in the net and play the best game I can.

“That’s really all I can do.”

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