“Kris had a tough situation to step into with our No. 1 goaltender being out for the first 20 games,” explained head coach Cory Clouston. “Kris had to start 19 of our first 20 games. It wasn’t easy, but I think he made the best of it. And it was a great experience for him.”
We’re not sure when the last time a rookie goaltender in the WHL played in all of his team’s first 20 games of the season. But Kris Lazaruk of the Kootenay Ice was given the nod to start the 2005-06 campaign. When starter Taylor Dakers (SJ) injured his hip, Lazaruk was called upon to keep the Kootenay goal clear of pucks.
“It was hard for me at the beginning of the season,” Lazaruk remembered. “I had to adjust really quickly because Taylor was injured. I had to get into the role as a starting goalie very quickly. It was hard but after I got a couple games in it sort of felt comfortable. The guys really helped me out. The team was behind me 100 percent.”
Lazaruk, an Edmonton, Alberta native, played his bantam hockey with the Canadian Athletic Club’s bantam AAA team. Kootenay chose him in the seventh round of the 2003 WHL draft.
“I remember the day, I found out after school,” Lazaruk said. “My parents got a hold of me and told me the good news. I was thrilled. Kootenay is a great organization and I knew that some top end goaltenders had come out of Kootenay.
“After my bantam year, I went to the Kootenay rookie camp,” Lazaruk continued. “It was good to get a feel for what it’s like and to get the gist of things. Kootenay wanted me to become a starting goaltender and face a lot of shots and I did in my next two years with CAC in midget AAA.
“When I came to Kootenay this year, I was hoping to get the backup role,” Lazaruk said. “Just from the training camp, I mean the quickness and the speed of the game it was just a whole new level.”
Lazaruk has made the adjustments well. So well in fact, that the Central Scouting Bureau has ranked him 11th among North American goaltenders heading into the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.
“What a total honor that was for me,” Lazaruk smiled. “I mean, just to get scouted like that. But I can’t just take it all in, I mean, we still have another half of the season left and I just hope I can maybe even get my ranking up higher.”
The coaching staff is pleased with Lazaruk’s play this season. Dakers has since returned from the injury and has taken over as the No. 1 goalie in Kootenay. Heading into the WHL playoffs against Kelowna, Clouston knows he’s packing a solid one-two punch in the nets. He’s also keen that Lazaruk will continue to improve.
“I think Kris has shown he has lots of potential,” Clouston said. “He has a lot of raw talent. He’s very athletic, a good reflex goalie. Kris has a lot of work to do to become a complete player. We want his work ethic to improve.
“Sometimes when a player comes here from a minor hockey system, they don’t realize the dedication and commitment they need to bring to reach their full potential.”
Kootenay has developed some great goaltenders who have played professional hockey. There is a tradition Lazaruk is very aware of. Dan Blackburn (now retired) and Jeff Glass (OTT) were able to elevate their game and take advantage of professional opportunities.
“I really have to take it a step at a time,” Lazaruk said. “For Dakers, right now he’s the starter and has big shoes to fill after Jeff Glass left. We talk and support each other and it’s just great for him and me.”
Clouston makes no secret he has high expectations for Lazaruk.
“Kris is a young guy with lots to learn, but I also think he was able to show that he’s capable of playing in this league,” Clouston said. “We’ve had some good goaltenders here and now Dakers has kind of stepped up and is playing well.
“It’s all about becoming a complete goaltender, that’s the focus Kris has to have over the next couple of years.”
In 31 games as a WHL rookie, Lazaruk compiled a 15-8-1-2 record, a goals against average of 2.55, and a save percentage of .912.
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.