Perhaps the most intriguing prospect of the Fort Frances Jr. Sabres’ training camp leading into the team’s second SIJHL season is the impending battle between the pipes.
David Novak served mostly as Ryan Faragher’s back-up a year ago, but was brought back to take over the starter’s role for this season now that Faragher is no longer with the team.
A recent development, however, had the Sabres signing Tanner Sheridan out of the KIJHL to come and compete for Novak’s job.
Whether it was something the coaches saw (or didn’t see) out of Novak earlier in camp, or just one of those “you can never have enough of a good thing” decisions, we will never know for sure.
Novak’s numbers didn’t exactly jump off the page a year ago, but the team assembled in front of him should be improved and the players appear to have full confidence in his abilities.
A little friendly competition certainly is not a bad thing, either, especially when it comes to goalies. If they are pushed to be at their best at all times, they tend to elevate their play and rise to the occasion.
Having two capable starters definitely gives a team an edge.
Many NHL teams have adopted the two-goalie system over the past several seasons, alternating two guys over the course of a rigorous schedule, and in theory that principle should work in the SIJHL, as well. The only reason many of these teams have since gone away from it was strictly for salary cap purposes (Vesa Toskala leaving San Jose for Toronto).
The SIJHL plays a heavy schedule in its own right, with plenty of back-to-back games that would warrant a team having two starting goalies.
However, sometimes it’s hard to keep two goalies happy in these type of platoon environments. The controversy between Ray Emery and Martin Gerber in Ottawa last winter festered until it affected the team’s play as a whole.
Most goalies want to carry the load and be relied on night in and night out, and sitting on the bench every other game is a huge shot to their egos.
The Chicago Blackhawks intend to use both Nikolai Khabibulin and Cristobal Huet to start the year, but it’s hard to see the two coexisting for long.
You wouldn’t expect these type of personality squabbles to happen in the SIJHL with down-to-earth kids playing more for the love of the game than paycheques. But it’ll still be interesting to see how it all plays out.
One thing’s for sure: No longer having the weight entirely on one guy’s shoulders should help both goalies play at the top of their game without the added pressures and distractions of being “the guy” all winter long.