After long months of rehab, Mathieu Caron is back and ready to reclaim his spot as the number one goalie for the Chilliwack Chiefs.
The Abbotsford native injured his left knee during a late-November game against the Prince George Spruce Kings.
His focus since then has been on getting back to 100 per cent.
“My legs feel amazing and honestly I feel I’m probably stronger than I was last year,” he said. “And because I injured the lower body I had more time to work on the upper body, so I’m stronger there.
“The knee itself feels amazing. Everything off the ice is basically back to normal. On the ice it’s a little bit of a mental thing, just getting comfortable in the various positions. Obviously being a goalie, it’s not the friendliest on knees.”
Many athletes talk about the doubt they feel coming back from a major injury.
Will the knee/elbow/shoulder/back hold up the first time it’s tested?
Caron said he worked in increments over the summer, building up to training camp.
“First it was just skating with no extra gear or anything, just skating,” Caron said. “After a half hour I wasn’t even thinking about the knee. Then it was just ramping up from there.”
Getting into training camp, Caron says dropping into the butterfly and getting back up hasn’t been a problem, nor has pushing off his posts been an issue.
“At first, there was a little power difference where I had to push harder off the weaker knee, but now everything is balanced,” he said.
If there’s going to be any trust-the-knee issues, he feels it’ll be when he starts having to deal with players skating near his crease and battling in front of the net.
“Yesterday was a great practice with a little more battle to it, which helps get that back into my game,” he noted. “I felt really comfortable with people around me. I think I’m a competitive goalie who likes to battle, and yesterday I really felt like my old self again.”
Caron was in the middle of a breakthrough season when he went down in a freakish sort of way. He absorbed friendly-fire contact from a teammate and crumpled to the ice.
He was among the BCHL league leaders at the time, with 18 wins, a 2.71 goals-against average and .914 save percentage.
For Chilliwack to succeed this season he’ll need to post similar numbers.
The crease is unquestionably his after the trade of Daniel Chenard to Wenatchee.
For the first time since he joined the Chiefs he is truly the number one guy.
“Daniel and I talked and we both had a good idea it (the trade) was coming,” Caron said. “We are both starters in this league and it wouldn’t have been fair to keep both of us on one team.
“From a business point of view, I think it went as well as it could have for both sides and I think everybody is happy with what happened.”
Head coach Brian Maloney has said that Caron’s workload will be closely monitored and he’ll be eased back into action.
He won’t play at all in the preseason.
Kolby Thornton will be Caron’s backup in 2019-20 and may see more starts early in the year. The 18 year old spent last season with the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Neepawa Chiefs, where he faced a ton of pucks behind a cellar-dwelling squad.
Caron likes what he’s seen so far from his understudy.
“Off the ice he’s a great person. Sometimes goalies aren’t on the same wave-length, but we’re pretty similar guys who get along well,” Caron said. “On the ice, I’ve only seen him in practice so far, but he’s extremely competitive and he battles for every puck.
“He got peppered with pucks last year and learned a lot. He’s going to push me, and that’s what I need because I can’t ever start feeling too comfortable as a starter.”
The Chiefs are in action Thursday night, 6:30 p.m. at the Sardis Sports Complex, hosting the Langley Rivermen in a preseason matchup.