CHICAGO – Unlike last season, the Chicago Wolves have used just three goaltenders to date – Max Lagace, Oscar Dansk and Zach Fucale, who have each played 22, 27 and 4 games in net for the Wolves, respectively. The Wolves have also been consistently in a playoff position this year, which is a far cry from the 5-11-4-2 start of the 2017-18 season, and goaltending has played a large part of that.
Each of these three netminders has grown immensely as a player since his time in the Vegas Golden Knights organization has begun, and Mike Rosati, the goaltending development coach for Vegas, has taken note saying,
“I think they’ve gained a lot of confidence. I think they’ve gained the confidence from their teammates and coaches as well. It was a big question mark last year this time at the start of the season and they’ve worked hard. They’ve got a chance to up to Vegas and work one-on-one with Dave Prior, which is an outstanding opportunity for them, and I think when they came back here, they came back with a lot of confidence, a lot of poise in their game. You see it more and more every game and you see there’s games that go not according to plan, but they’re able to brush those games aside and get right back on course.”
Let’s break down the progress of each netminder.
Max Lagace: B+
While I don’t exactly foresee Max as an eventual number one netminder for an NHL team – he is 26, after all, he’s come up huge for Chicago time and time again since returning from his original stint with the Vegas Golden Knights last winter. He looks a lot more confident in net, and set the Wolves’ franchise record back in May with 72 games during the Game 3 triple-overtime loss to the Rockford IceHogs in the 2018 playoffs.
His play has not been the most consistent all season, as evidenced by his 11-7-3-3 record in net, but you cannot put all of that on the goaltending. Chicago’s failed to play consistently at times, and Max has come up huge for Rocky Thompson’s crew, especially as of late.
Since returning from his most recent turn in Vegas, Max has made 39, 34, 25 and 31 saves for a record of 2-1-1-0, and found himself carrying the team during a good portion of those games.
Speaking on his effort from Sunday’s 2-1 overtime win, Rocky said,
“Max played great… Max made some really, some saves that are almost impossible saves to be made in the third period to even just get us a point. We were fortunate tonight. We didn’t deserve that, but because of Max’s performance, we were able to find a way to win a really, really important game.”
Lagace has been the most consistent, most dependable person in net for the Wolves this season, and he’s stolen games, and points, because of this. With Max in net, you know exactly what you’re getting and what saves he will make, and he may surprise you on top of that. At his worst, he’s consistent in what you can expect, and at his best, he can make those highlight reel saves.
Mike Rosati says:
“Max is a workhorse. He understands what he needs to do to get the positive results and he works at it day in and day out.”
Oscar Dansk – C+
Perhaps the more flashy of the two netminders, Oscar has one major downfall. He can get in his own head, and when that happens, there is no telling who you are getting in net. Having played the majority of the minutes in net for Chicago, he also possesses the most wins per minute played, but his .895 save percentage is the only one of the three Wolves netminders below .900. His 2.85 goals against average is a full .41 higher than last season in seven additional games.
When Oscar is on, he’s hard to beat making seemingly impossible save after impossible save, but it’s also difficult for him to shake things off when he gives up a tough goal.
Sometimes, it appears that Dansk loses his position in net and has to scramble to get back into position, which can be difficult depending on the play. He’s much stronger with his glove than Max, but still has work to do when it comes to using his stick.
The key to success when Oscar is in net seems to be to limit the chances the other teams have in front of him, and if you compare their numbers, as of late Max has faced more shots on goal – though correlation is certainly not causation.
With Oscar in goal, sometimes he will steal a win, but he makes me a bit nervous with his inconsistent play and ability to get in his own head.
Mike Rosati says:
“Oscar’s very technically sound. He’s working on being a little more confrontational in the net.”
Zach Fucale – B
It’s hard to grade Fucale’s progress with the Wolves, because he has only played four games with Chicago after not seeing any ice time in his first stint. His 1-2 record with the Wolves is quite misleading, as the team in front of him did not play well by any means during his first two games.
In this case, yes, his 2.04 GAA and .924 SV% are a better indicator of what he was like in net for the Wolves.
Fucale did not get off to the best start with the ECHL’s Fort Wayne Komets, either, but like the rest of that team, as the season went on his play significantly improved. Fucale went on to represent Canada in the Spengler Cup and was 7-1-1 in his last nine games with Fort Wayne before leaving. Zach helped backstop Team Canada to a silver medal; Canada lost 2-1 in the fifth shootout round.
For those of you who aren’t fully familiar with Zach from his time with Chicago, Mike Rosati can fill you in –
“Zach’s come a long way for sure, but he’s a guy that came out of Junior as one of the top goalies taken in his draft year. He’s a great student of the game, he asks great questions and when you ask great questions, we critique him over video and he’s really open to that. He’s very understand of that and he’s able to apply it immediately. I think that’s what makes him special is he can correct something and grasp it immediately and automatically make the changes.”
At 23, Fucale can still just barely be considered a prospect, but he’s good depth guy to have in any organization and is probably someone who should be in the American Hockey League full time.
Mike Rosati says:
“Zach, he comes from – he’s spent a lot of time with Hockey Canada and has a little different approach than what we have, so we’re trying to get him to be a little more aggressive, a little more patient on his feet, and he’s done a great job of being also more confrontational.”
In summation, Wolves fans should be more confident about who is in net for Chicago this season, but if the playoffs were to start tomorrow, I’d go with Max Lagace in net especially based off of recent performance.