“To me, I think this is an opportunity to show that I’m ready to play pro. And that’s what I want to do – I want to play in the NHL one day, and I think this is just one step,” Fucale said. “The coaches always say take one step at a time and this is an important start right here. I’m excited and looking forward to it.”
But being in the Forest City hasn’t hampered his ability to see the forest for the trees, as he’s well aware there’s a Vezina Trophy-winning roadblock ahead of him in the form of Vezina, Lindsay, and Hart Trophy-winning goalie Carey Price.
“If you look around the NHL you’ll find there are awesome starting goalies everywhere. It’s true in Montreal, but it’s true everywhere,” he said. “There are good prospects everywhere and there are good starters everywhere.
“There’s no exception to that and, to me, my goal is to play in the NHL. I have to take one step at a time, grow from tonight, and get better.”
And despite facing the same challenges as NHL shooters – trying to figure a way to bypass the nigh-impenetrable wall that is Price – and being the subject of trade speculation by media in the run up to last year’s trade deadline, Fucale explained he has given no thoughts to plying his trade in a new location.
“I haven’t thought that far to be honest. Everything has its time, I really do believe that,” Fucale said. “Once the opportunity will pop up, we’ll have lots of time to talk about it then. I’d like to just focus on one little goal at a time.
“That’s in the future – not necessarily in the very far future, but it’s too early to tell.”
Fucale turned away 40 of 43 shots in regulation time during the Canadiens prospects’ first game in the rookie tournament. He was beaten on the first shot he faced in the new three-on-three overtime format, when a golden scoring opportunity for the Habs’ rookies turned into a two-on-none breakaway for the Pittsburgh Penguins’ rookies. It was his first experience with the new format and he said it obviously got the desired result – for a league looking for scoring, not for him, of course.
“It’s certainly fast. They wanted opportunities and that’s what we got,” he said. “It didn’t take too long. It could go any way, obviously.”
Fucale won a Memorial Cup with the Halifax Mooseheads in 2012-13. He capped his CHL career with a return visit to the Memorial Cup last year as a member of the host Quebec Remparts. And in between, he backstopped Team Canada to its first gold medal in five years at the 2015 World Junior Championship. Fucale said the pace of this tournament is a step up.
“Obviously, guys are stronger. Guys can play fast and they have good finishing skill – that goes for every guy on every team,” he said. “It’s interesting to have this chance and make this jump. I’m excited about it and I’m ready for it. I feel very ready for starting to turn pro.”
And while the tournament doesn’t allow much time for team cohesion, making it tough on a goalie who may not know where his teammates will be in front of him, Fucale said it’s not an excuse, because it’s an experience that’s shared with everyone.
“It’s hard for a goaltender, but it’s hard for everyone. It’s the same situation where we haven’t been playing together for a long time,” he said. “This was the first real game that most of the guys have played this season. It’s the same adjustment for everyone and I’m sure execution will get better game by game.”
Fucale’s gained a bit of a reputation as being a big-save goalie who can sometimes let the softer goals slide by. Being consistent is an important developmental step for him this year.
“My goal is to focus on playing pro and establish myself as a pro and help the team win. That’s what every goalie wants to do – just contribute as much as we can,” he said. “I need to get ready, be consistent, and hopefully I can play more and more in this league.”
So what has he been working on?
“Everything, right? To play in the NHL you can’t just have one big trait as a goalie – especially as a young guy I have to push every facet of my game to get better,” Fucale said. “I want to do that one step at a time. I’m going in the right direction and I’m happy about that.”
Having played with Halifax, Fucale’s familiar with the east coast of Canada. He’s excited about the prospect of playing with the Canadiens’ new AHL affiliate in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
“I love the Maritimes, it’s an awesome place and it’s going to give me the opportunity for me to complete the whole tour of the Maritimes – Newfoundland’s the one place I haven’t been,” he said. “I’m excited about it; I know there’s a lot of hard work ahead of me to get there. I’m aware of that. This is just the first day of the rest of my time.”
And just as Fucale found his way from the east coast to Quebec, he’s hoping a solid performance in St. John’s could have him repeat his Atlantic Canada to Quebec history – this time wearing the bleu, blanc, et rouge.
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