Few things have gone right this season for the OHL cellar-dwelling Peterborough Petes. But even in the darkness of the league’s basement, they’ve found a bright light in the form of rookie netminder and 2013 draft-eligible prospect, Michael Giugovaz.
And Petes’ fans aren’t the only ones to notice; NHL’s Central Scouting service ranked the Brampton, ON-born Giugovaz second in its list of OHL netminding prospects.
““It’s an honour, it’s a big stepping stone, but it’s November — there’s a long way left in the season,” Giugovaz said. “I’ve been playing a lot, it’s been great. I’ve been seeing a lot of rubber. Hopefully I’ll just keep improving and that they like my game.”
Guigovaz has been pushing — and in many ways unseating — the Petes’ incumbent starter (and fourth-year netminder) Andrew D’Agostini, who has yet to win in 11 games played (0-8, 4.43 GAA).
“Andrew’s such a good person and such a good teammate that I’m sure that Michael’s gleaning something off of having the opportunity of being around Andrew,” explained Petes’ head coach Mike Pelino. “I don’t know if there’s a harder-working individual in the league than Andrew, let alone goaltenders, and hopefully that will continue to rub off on Michael. Right now they have a great relationship.
“It is what it is: Michael’s had the opportunities and has been effective; Andrew’s been hard done by so far this year.”
Giugovaz has been listening intently and taking advice from his 19-year-old netminding partner.
“He’s really good. He’s helped me out a lot. He helps me with video and teaching me a lot of the little things,” he said. “Andrew keeps my game honest.”
Central Scouting isn’t the only group to have been impressed with Giugovaz’s game. At the end of October, he was named the CHL’s Goaltender of the Week, when he posted back-to-back victories in which he racked up 87 saves.
“I think they’re seeing a guy who is definitely finding a way to stop the puck. He’s been very impressive in regards to not giving up anything,” he said. “On top of that, he handles the puck really well and I think that because he wasn’t in the league last year that he’s a virtual unknown and he’s taking the league a bit by storm.”
The 6-foot, 164-pound goalie played last year with the Georgetown Raiders of the OJHL, where he compiled a 21-5-0 record with three shutouts en route to posting a 2.12 GAA and .919 save percentage. In his rookie campaign with the Petes, Giugovaz has appeared in 17 games, earning a 5-8-2 record for Peterborough, which finds itself in the OHL basement with only 13 points in 26 games.
Despite it being his rookie campaign and his draft-eligible year, the goalie explained the key to his success is being able to put that pressure aside once the whistle blows.
“Of course there’s always a thought, but you can’t let it get to you or you’ll fall of track,” said Guigovaz. “You have to stick with your game — just worry about my own game and don’t let anything bother me.”
But that doesn’t mean he’s not aware of what the scouts are looking for.
“It’s the little things on and off the ice; they don’t care how much you play — it’s how you play when you get the chance,” he said. “You’ve got to stay in game shape if you’re not playing a lot. And if you are, you’ve got to make the most of it.”
Guigovaz is an Italian name; his father is of Italian descent — but it’s his maternal side that’s infused him with his love of the game.
“My mom’s side of the family grew up playing hockey their whole life so that’s how I got into it,” he explained. “My uncle [on mother’s side] played his whole life. He never did a whole lot but you don’t have to go anywhere to be able to give advice. Everybody’s seen something and if you can pick up little things every day, then you’re going to get better.”
The uncle was a goalie and while that helped steer him towards the position, it was just good fortune that he decided to step between the pipes.
“One day I saw an extra set of pads, so I thought I’d try them on,” he said. “I started playing when I was five. I was a player at first, but I fell in love with being a goalie and being an impact player really able to change games.”
And the Italian? “I cannot speak any Italian. I’ve been embarrassed about that,” he said. “[My dad’s] not too picky about it, but it’s always something that would be nice to have.”
Despite growing up in the Toronto area, Guigovaz is not a Maple Leafs’ fan. In fact, he’s really not a fan of any team — or any player.
“Not really. It’s kind of weird, yeah. I’ve watched a lot of hockey but I never had that number-one team or that number-one guy,” he explained, adding that he prefers to watch everyone and take the best of everyone he sees.
“There’s always guys like Cam Ward and now Johnny Quick,” he said. “There are always guys out there that you take a little bit from them and the best way to get better is to take little things from each guy — like Tim Thomas’ battle and compete level, Carey Price’s relaxation and staying calm.
“You just have to try new things and keep what works best for you.”
So how does combining his own style with this mishmash of the best of the NHL affect his game? How would he classify his style?
“Unique,” he said, laughing. “I’m a little different. I’m not the average butterfly goalie; I battle on everything and I just try to do my best every night.
“Of course size makes a big difference. If you’re bigger you’re able to get away with little things — I’m six-feet and I still come out a little further than most goalies. That’s just the way I am.”
Whatever it is, it’s working for him. Pelino said his style has contributed to Guigovaz’s early season success.
“I think the biggest thing is that he makes the plays look easy,” Pelino said. “Whether that’s because he’s in perfect position or how he reads the play — he swallows up a lot of pucks, he doesn’t give second opportunities, and he’s a competitor where he’s making that save that should be a goal.”
Of course, it’s a big jump to the OHL and Pelino said he understands that the toughest parts are yet to come for his young netminder.
“He has to really understand the demands of being in major junior hockey and being a goaltender. It’s a grind,” Pelino added. “It’s a tough week of work and practice; it’s tough when you have to go back-to-back in games, two or three in a week. He’s still like that coyote — pretty scrawny, he needs to improve his strength and improve his conditioning.
“But that all comes with the territory — he is only 17, so that’ll eventually happen, and he’s got a bright future.”
Since Brampton’s only about an hour and a half away from Peterborough, Guigovaz explained that he’s had a lot of hometown support.
“My parents come to a lot of the games, which is good. It’s always nice to have family support,” he explained. “I try and keep in touch with them every day and keep a strong relationship with them.”
That family touch is contributing to keeping him sane this year — and for a position that’s known for having its share of characters, that’s no small feat.
“There’s some guys that are weird and have weird traditions,” he said. “I try to be as normal as possible given the circumstances we’re dealt with and all that pressure.
“You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”