Opening weekend for the 2018-19 season painted a picture of what life is going to be like for Mathieu Caron, at least in the short-term.
He is the unquestioned number one goaltender for a young team, full of players who are new to junior A hockey.
In weekend road games against the veteran-laden Prince George Spruce Kings, their inexperience revealed itself on the shot clock, as PG peppered Caron’s net with 79 pucks in 5-1 and 2-1 wins.
It’s likely to be that way most nights for Caron, until his teammates adapt to the pace of the league. It may take one month. Or two. Maybe even longer. But Caron is up for the challenge, determined to keep his crew competitive.
“There’s 15 or 16 guys who are new to this level, and it’s a huge step from where they were,” he noted. “There’s going to be a slight learning curve, but I’m very happy with the team we have and I’m expecting we’ll do a good job this year.
“I face a lot of shots in practice, so it’s not much different from that, and for the first few weeks there’s going to be a lot of learning and maybe a few more mistakes than we’re used to, but you’ve got to stay positive.
“One thing I am happy about is how hard working this group seems to be.”
Flashback to early last summer and Caron was one of two veteran goalies on the roster of the reigning RBC Cup champions.
A luxury for head coach Brian Maloney.
But the hip injury that nagged at Chenard through the entirety of his rookie year forced him into a tough decision.
Rather than limp through another campaign, he opted to have surgery, which will sideline him until December.
“I knew about the problems he had last season and because we’re good buddies who keep in contact, he texted me around mid-summer to let me know,” Caron explained. “It was obviously not the best injury for him to get, but it happens and I’m sure when he comes back he’ll be better than ever.”
Had Chenard been healthy, it’s possible that Caron might not be a Chief right now.
Both men are good enough to be be starters in the BCHL.
Either could have asked for a trade to a team where they could be the top dog, and Maloney would have accomodated their request.
“For sure, if either one of us really wanted to go somewhere and get that starting position somewhere else, then he was going to make that happen for us,” Caron said.
Last season helped Caron prepare for the increased workload he’s about to receive.
Chenard missed chunks of time in 2017-18, and Caron filled in admirably. Playing behind a team that was… spotty… defensively, the 18 year old posted a 2.66 goals-against average and .895 save percentage in 37 outings.
“I was one of the younger goalies in the league and it was a huge opportunity to step up and mature my game,” he said. “My biggest takeaway was the mental aspect and consistency.
“Towards the end of the season I was more calm and composed in the net, and I wasn’t as nervous before games. That’s what comes with the experience of playing back to back games and it prepared me well coming into this year.”
Caron took a couple weeks off after the season to recharge the batteries and ‘forget about hockey.’
Then it was right back to work.
He spent the summer working on his technique.
An athletic goalie with lighting-quick reflexes, the knock on him was that he was too excitable in the net, prone to overplaying the puck and leaving himself out of position.
“We (Caron and his goalie coaches) look at guys like Carey Price and top NHL guys, where you watch them play and they make it look easy,”Caron said. “I try to make the game look as easy as possible even though that’s the hardest part, and I think that’s the biggest difference in me since I came to Chilliwack is I’m more calm in the net.
“It’s interesting to see what happens this year, but I feel real confident in my game.”