If theres a position of strength in the IHL, it would certainly seem to be goaltender.
Flint has Jean-Francois Labbe and Muskegon has Sebastien Centomo, both of whom played in the NHL. Bloomingtons Paulo Colaiacovo has backstopped champions in the Central Hockey League and in Europe. Daytons Ryan Mior and Port Hurons Larry Sterling have gotten extended looks at higher levels. Quad Citys Sebastien Laplante was an NHL draft pick.
And Fort Waynes Nick Boucher has guided the Komets to back-to-back Turner Cup championships.
Everybody went out and got a top-notch goalie this year, and I think it shows, said Fort Wayne coach Al Sims, whose team will face Colaiacovo and the PrairieThunder tonight in Illinois.
Goaltenders have historically been easier to find than position players because there are, overall, fewer spots available. That was magnified last summer when six teams folded in minor-league hockey.
Those are 12 jobs right there, pretty good goalies, who couldnt find work, Sims said.
There have also been financial problems for European teams, cutting short the chances for players to go overseas.
In putting together his squad, Bloomington coach Jarrod Skalde was able to take his time before settling on Colaiacovo.
Its amazing how many goalies were out there and we were fortunate as coaches that we could be patient, wait and find the right one to compete with teams that have guys like (Nick) Boucher and all hes accomplished, Skalde said.
Boucher is the latest in a line of great Fort Wayne goalies at the AA level of hockey that includes Doug Teskey (1999-2002), Tom Lawson (2002-03) and Kevin St. Pierre (2003-07).
Im very confident with him back there, Komets center Colin Chaulk said. Boucher is a funny guy because hes very competitive and we feed off of that. If you are able to score on him during practice, it gets him a little riled up. Sometimes the young guys dont know what to make of it, but he tries (hard) every play, plays every puck and hes just really good.
With so many solid netminders, teams must find ways to solve them. They break down film. And players who have been on teams with goalies in the past can share knowledge of their tendencies. The good ones arent susceptible to much.
Traffic is a big thing, though, Skalde said. There arent many goalies who like that (in front of them), even in the NHL.
You can be sure that tonight, the Komets (3-1-0) and the PrairieThunder (2-2-0) will try to screen the goalies all night long. It could be the only way to solve Boucher and Colaiacovo.
(The perception is) goalies can only lose a game, Chaulk said. Nobody cares if they win. But if they make an error, everybody notices it.