Zador shining at the right time

By Jeff Dahlia

The last two seasons have been filled with tons of frustration for Michael Zador. After being selected by the London Knights in the first round of the 2007 OHL Priority Draft, many believed big things were on the horizon for the young, up-and-coming netminder. While that was the case, no one would have guessed that he would have to battle through a continuous set of nagging injuries over the past two years to even see consistent playing time in Ontario’s premier major junior league.

Expectations are high in London, and having that "win now" attitude also didn’t play in Zador’s favor. The team would turn to Jason Guy to carry the majority of the workload early in the 2008-09 season. Then, the Knights acquired Trevor Cann to lead them the rest of the way.

Regardless of the setbacks, Zador remained positive throughout, soaked in as much as he could, and did everything the club asked of him.

“It was tough,” Zador said. “Having high expectations taught me to battle through a little adversity and work hard to get further in the game.”

Part of that adversity included being sent down to St. Marys Lincolns in the Western Ontario Hockey League to get some playing time. It wasn’t where he wanted to be this season, but he didn’t complain.

“It was tough at first with the injuries,” he said. “They worked me into the lineup and they were able to get me into some games."

In and out of the lineup, Zador had a 6-1-0-0 record, but his overall numbers – a 3.64 goals against average and a .888 save percentage – were obviously not where he wanted them.

When the OHL trade deadline approached, the Knights swung a deal for John Tavares. Zador was one of two players and six future Priority Selection picks sent to the Oshawa Generals.

“I enjoyed it in London,” he said.  “But going to Oshawa gave me a chance to get some more playing time and helped me showcase my stuff. It ended up working out for the best.”

On a depleted team looking to rebuild, Zador did his best. He surely didn’t envision things would take a turn like this, but he continued to press and make the best of the situation.

Then, as Oshawa’s season was about to end, Zador learned that his perseverance was about to pay some dividends. Looking to build a team and roster of some of the best available under-18 players, Team Canada tapped the services of the netminder for the 2009 IIHF Under-18 World Championships.

“I’m definitely proud to play for Team Canada,” he said of his latest opportunity. “I want to do my best for the team and make our country number one.”

Zador is doing just that. On a stage with some of the best talent the world has to offer for the upcoming 2009 NHL Draft, he has backstopped Team Canada to a 4-0 record in the preliminary round and helped his squad earn a first game bye in the regulation round. In addition to that, he’s been the top goalie at the tournament so far, posting a 1.99 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage.

“I guess there’s a fair amount of pressure,” he said. “It’s not too bad. Everyone’s good and the coaches are calm and very instructive. We all get along well and we stay calm.”

He’s thankful for his success, but humble enough to point to his supporting cast.

“I just jumped into the starting spot but this is a good team to play with,” he added. “It’s very rare that I have to make a big save, so it’s really been great playing for this team.”

You can downplay his success to any extent, but Team Canada’s defense has allowed a tournament low eight goals.

“I think every game we’re getting better,” he said. “The team is playing better as we go. I think I’ve been stepping up my game and things have been working very well for us and I hope it continues.”

For a player looking for some salvation, this has been the best thing to happen for his career going forward.

“It gives you a lot of confidence, especially if you do well at this high of a level,” said Zador.