Bismarck Bobcats coach Byron Pool kept his word to Ryan Faragher.
And the Fort Frances goalie rewarded Pool’s faith, leading the Bobcats to the North American Hockey League’s Robertson Cup on Sunday.
Faragher turned aside all 21 shots he faced as Bismarck blanked the Fairbanks Ice Dogs 3-0 in Wenatchee, Wash.
“My coach had been telling me all year that I would be that guy that was going to be playing that game if we got there, and he stuck to his word,” noted Faragher.
“When I got the call the night before that I would be going, it was just an all-around good feeling,” he added.
Faragher, 19, got the call over Jake Williams, with whom he had split time fairly evenly between the pipes down the stretch.
Although Williams had recorded better regular-season numbers after he joined the team in January, an outstanding post-season led to Faragher getting the nod in the biggest game of the season.
He posted the top statistics of any goalie in the playoffs, earning a 5-0 record to go with a 1.20 goals against average and .959 save percentage.
“It was pretty exciting, lots of nerves,” Faragher admitted. “It was my first time playing in a national championship game, so there were lots of different feelings.
“But once the puck dropped, all of them went away and I just got back to my game,” he said.
He also made clear that playing alongside a goalie of Williams’ calibre forced him to play his best game night in and night out.
“Ever since the start of playoffs, coach had been rotating myself and Jake Williams, the other goalie, and kept me on my toes and kept me working hard,” Faragher stressed.
“We had a relationship on the ice where we would push one another, and by the end of the season that became huge for us because we both got to play in the national tournament,” he remarked.
“And it ended up giving one of us a rest so one of us could play in the final game.
“By the time the Robertson Cup came around, I felt like I was on top of my game,” he added.
Faragher said just getting a feel for the Robertson Cup—featuring the NAHL’s four division champions plus the wild-card Ice Dogs—was key as he started Bismarck’s 5-3 win over St. Louis in the opener.
“After that first game was out of the way, I was more comfortable in the net there and was able to bring my game up another level,” he reasoned.
Faragher also was blazing hot down the stretch, winning seven of his last nine regular-season games.
Overall, he finished with a 23-6-7 mark, including four shutouts, to go along with a 2.17 GAA and .921 save percentage.
He credited his improved play with the ability to remain calm under pressure, which, in turn, helped the Bobcat skaters in their transition game.
“I was just being a little more patient,” Faragher noted. “I was waiting for the puck to come to me instead of being more challenging.
“I played the puck a lot,” he explained. “I helped the guys break out of the zone so they wouldn’t get crushed by their forwards.”
The son of Darcy and Penny Faragher also has his future somewhat set as he has committed to Dartmouth, an NCAA Division I school in the East Coast Athletic Conference, for the 2011/12 season.
“It was a great decision, I think,” he enthused. “It’s in the Ivy League.
“Their hockey program isn’t one that’s known around the country,” he conceded. “But they have a great hockey program and their head coach [Bob Gaudet] is their goalie coach, so that made my decision a little bit easier.”
Faragher also said current Pittsburgh Penguins’ scout—and Fort Frances native—Dave Allison provided him with some extra information about the school.
“He helped my dad and I with some questions that we had about the school, and it made my decision a lot easier.”
Faragher plans to be back with Bobcats for 20 next season, but acknowledged there are other potential paths ahead, including a jump to the USHL—America’s only Tier 1 junior league.
“There’s an option to move up to the USHL, but the only way that that would be happening is if I went to a camp and felt comfortable with a team,” he stressed.
“I like what I have in Bismarck, and I think I’ll be coming back.”