The last position the Montreal Canadiens need help with is goaltending. Carey Price is a Vezina Trophy candidate at just 26 years of age, Peter Budaj is a perfect veteran backup and Dustin Tokarski has a glowing resume for a young AHL netminder. But Zach Fucale, the Canadiens second round pick a year ago may prove to be the best of the whole group.
Fucale continues to prove to be nearly unbeatable at the Junior level. His Quebec Major Junior Hockey League resume was a mile long before his 18th birthday, and he showed over the past week he is not yet done editing his profile.
The Halifax Mooseheads were QMJHL and Memorial Cup champions last season with Fucale guiding the way from the net. They entered this season’s Q postseason as heavy favorites over the Charlottetown Islanders, and did not disappoint.
The Mooseheads took game one on home ice 6-3, with Fucale allowing three goals on just 18 shots. It really was not a great performance by the Habs prospect, as Halifax outshout the Islanders 51-18, but did not put the game to bed until the final five minutes.
Game two would see the Mooseheads continue their dominance, firing another 49 shots at Charlottetown’s net, and only allowing 20. Fucale would turn aside 19 of those 20 shots, helping the Mooseheads skaters relax as they struggled to score in the first half of the game.
Halifax traveled to Prince Edward Island to take on Charlottetown in game three and though they badly outshot their opponent again, it was the first time they needed some big saves from Fucale to keep them in the game.
The Mooseheads ultimately won the game and outshot the Islanders 42-17, but they fell behind 1-0 in the first period, and did not pull ahead until the third frame, and were barely ahead at 2-1 with nine minutes remaining. Fucale made just 16 saves in the game but they were all big ones as the game remained close until the final buzzer, when the Mooseheads added an empty netter to make the final 4-1.
Charlottetown came out in game four and played their best period of the series in the opening frame. Unfortunately for Islanders fans, so did Fucale. Zach made 13 saves in the first 20 minutes including several phenomenal saves on various breakaway and odd man rush situations.
The Islanders found themselves behind 3-0 even though they finally outplayed the defending Memorial Cup champions, and played the rest of game four like they knew the series was over. By the end of 40 minutes the score was 8-0 Halifax, and Fucale took a break during the third period as the Moose coasted to an 11-3 victory to close out the series.
In total, Fucale played all but one period of the four game sweep, allowing just five goals in the process. He finished the series with a 1.36 goals against average and a .930 save percentage, adding to his already impressive playoff resume with the Halifax Mooseheads.
The Moose will face a stiffer challenge in the second round of the QMJHL playoffs, likely against Martin Reway;s Gatineau Olympiques. If so, something will have to give in Habs prospect land, as Fucale averaged just 1.36 goals against per game in the opening round, while Reway scored nearly three points per game himself in the first round.
Based on his 30-8 career QMJHL playoff record, I would suggest Fucale is not about to blink, no matter who he faces in the next round.