Fucale Looks To Put Cherry On Top of Incredible Junior Career

Zach Fucale
[Photo: David Chan]
When the Lewiston Maineiacs QMJHL franchise folded in the summer of 2011, a dispersal draft was held to spread their players around the league. Instead of taking a player off the Maineiacs roster, Halifax Mooseheads general manager Cam Russell, elected to take the Maineiacs first round draft pick, which would be 11th overall at the 2011 QMJHL draft.

Russell couldn’t have known is at the time, but due to the Lewiston franchise evaporating, the Mooseheads would select Zach Fucale, who would go on to have one of the best Junior careers of any goaltender in Canadian Hockey League history.

Though he is already one of the most decorated goaltenders in QMJHL history, the Canadiens second round pick from the 2013 draft has one last chance to add to his list of accomplishments at this year’s Memorial Cup before he makes his professional debut next season.

Fucale Helped Moose Go From Cellar To Contender

When Fucale first arrived in Halifax at the age of 16, he was joining a team that had been among the worst in Canada for the past three seasons. After giving up much of their future in 2008 to acquire Brad Marchand in a failed attempt at a league title, the Mooseheads plummeted to the bottom of the standings, and stayed there for three years.

The arrival of Fucale came at the same time as the much more heralded Nathan MacKinnon, and they were joined midseason by Jonathan Drouin. The trio of 16 year old QMJHL rookies carried the team out of the cellar, and immediately into the league semi-finals, before losing to the Rimouski Oceanic in a six game series.

Fucale suited up in 58 of the Mooseheads’s 68 games that season, an incredible number for a rookie goaltender, in a league that rarely sees 16 year old goaltenders at all, let alone starters lasting into the third round of the postseason. He posted a solid (for the QMJHL, at least) 3.12 goals against average and a .892 save percentage, while helping the Mooseheads come back from an improbable 3-0 series deficit against the Quebec Remparts in round two. The Rosemere, Quebec native improved those numbers in the playoffs, putting up a solid 2.88 GAA and .904 SV% in 17 games.

Though Fucale set the record for most wins by a rookie goaltender in the long history of the QMJHL in 2011-12 with 32, and was named the Defensive Rookie of the Year and was picked for the Rookie All Star Team, it was his sophomore season that would prove to be more successful.

Make that, much, much more successful.

2012-13 Season Among Best Ever By Junior Player

Fucale began the banner season by backstopping Canada’s entry to a gold medal at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial U-18 tournament in August. He posted a 2.00 GAA in four games, including a shutout in the gold medal game, making him a champion before his best season of Junior hockey had even started.

Zach Fucale [photo: David Chan]
Zach Fucale [photo: David Chan]
After adding a few key veterans such as Stefan Fournier and Mac Weegar to a loaded roster, the Mooseheads went into the 2012-13 season with high expectations. As stacked as the team was up front, at the end of the day their success rested on the shoulders of a 17 year old netminder.

Fucale did not disappoint, dropping his GAA to 2.35 in a league that averages nearly seven goals per game, and the Habs prospect posted the third best SV% in the league at .909. He once again bested his regular season numbers in the playoffs, as the Mooseheads left the competition in its dust, losing just one game en route to a President’s Cup title. Fucale led the way with a 2.02 GAA and a .918 SV% to go with a 16-1 record.

Halifax, and Fucale, continued their dream season right through the Memorial Cup tournament in Saskatoon, defeating a very deep Portland Winterhawks team led by Seth Jones twice, including the final game to make them Canadian Junior hockey champions. Fucale finished the season, if you include regular season, playoffs, Memorial Cup and Ivan Hlinka U18 tournament, with an unbelievable record of 68-10-3, a gold medal, a President’s Cup and a Memorial Cup.

Keep in mind, aside from four games representing his country, Fucale was a 17 year old goaltender in a league dominated by 19 and 20 year olds.

Fucale Kept Team Afloat After MacKinnon Left For NHL

After losing much of their roster due to the usual cycle of Junior hockey and the fact that Nathan MacKinnon jumped straight to the NHL at 18, the 2013-14 Mooseheads were scheduled to drop in the standings, much like they did in 2009.

Fucale Mooseheads
Zach Fucale will likely be the first goalie to be picked at this year’s NHL Draft. [Mike Demback]
However, thanks to Fucale once again dropping his GAA, now to a league best 2.26 and posting another solid SV% of .907, the Mooseheads hung around the top of the standings all year, finished second in league standings. Once again, the Moose marched to the league’s semi-final before finally bowing out to the offensive juggernaut Val d’Or Foreurs in a very tight seven game series.

Zach was also picked to represent his country once again in the 2013-14 season, this time suiting up for the World Junior Hockey Championships, and though he played well, a bad game from the team in the Semi-Finals sent them to the Bronze Medal Game, and eventually they returned home without a medal.

Zach Adds World Junior Gold To Resume

Zach returned to Halifax in September of 2014 for his fourth season of Junior hockey, already having accomplished almost everything a player possibly can before turning pro. However, he had a second chance to earn a gold medal at the World Junior Championships, and this time he would achieve that goal as well. He posted a sparkling 1.20 GAA and a .939 SV% in five games, and added a U20 gold medal to his already overstocked trophy case.

The Mooseheads finally took a step back this season, after losing the rest of their core from the 2013 Memorial Cup team, including Jonathan Drouin who was surprisingly back for the 2013-14 season after being selected third overall in the NHL draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Fucale was dealt from Halifax to Quebec in January, as the Remparts loaded up for a run at the QMJHL title. Quebec ultimately fell just shy of reaching that goal, losing in overtime of Game 7 of the QMJHL finals, but will enter the Memorial Cup as the host of the prestigious event.

Whether it was the skill level of the Mooseheads in front of him this season, fatigue, or perhaps Fucale had plateaud at this level, having accomplished so much already. Whatever the cause, he took a step back in this year’s regular season. He posted his worst GAA and SV% of his QMJHL career, and was actually on the bench when the Remparts began their postseason against the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.

It didn’t take long for Fucale to be given an opportunity, and he ran with it, increasing his already spectacular playoff numbers.

Fucale Cements Status As Clutch Playoff Keeper

Zach took over the starter’s duties in Game 4 with the Remparts down 2-1 in the opening round series, and facing the embarrassment of being knocked out of the postseason almost two months before hosting the Memorial Cup. With Fucale in goal, the Remparts went on an 11-1 run, finishing off the Eagles in seven, before sweeping both the Charlottetown Islanders and Moncton Wildcats on their way to the QMJHL final.

In case you weren’t counting, Fucale at this point had won 11 playoff series in his QMJHL career, and had only lost two. He helped Quebec take a 3-2 lead in the final series with Rimouski, before losing Game 6 and 7 in overtime. Along the way, Fucale set the record for most career playoff victories by a goaltender with 49 and his 134 regular season wins ranks third all time. If not for being asked to play for Canada at the World Junior Championship twice, Fucale almost definitely would have beaten Jacques Cloutier’s record of 142 regular season wins.

Memorial Cup Offers Chance To Add To Trophy Case

Fortunately, as the host team, Quebec still qualifies for the Memorial Cup tournament and will be joined by the Rimouski Oceanic who edged Quebec for the QMJHL championship, as well as the Ontario Hockey League champion Oshawa Generals and the Kelowna Rockets, who are the winners of the Western Hockey League.

Fucale and the Remparts kick off the tournament on Friday night against Kelowna who are led by last year’s third overall pick in the NHL draft, Leon Draisaitl. Quebec’s second game is on Sunday afternoon when they take on Montreal Canadiens first round pick Michael McCarron and the Oshawa Generals. The round robin wraps up on Wednesday night with the Remparts facing a familiar opponent in the Oceanic.

With U-18 and U-20 gold medals for representing his country, a Memorial Cup, the third most wins in QMJHL regular season history and the record for most playoff wins ever by a goaltender in the 46 year history of the QMJHL, Zach Fucale is one of the most decorated hockey players to ever come out of Junior hockey in Canada. Amazingly, even with all that hardware already to his name, the Canadiens prospect has a chance to add to that collection in the swan song of his Junior career.

Cam Russell literally stole Zach Fucale from a Lewiston franchise that crumbled almost overnight. If he continues this success into his professional career next season, Marc Bergevin will look as brilliant as Russell for announcing Fucale’s name at the draft table.