As the Chilliwack Chiefs hit the road for two games this weekend, one player prepares for a homecoming of sorts.
Goaltender Bryton Udy returns to Vernon Friday night, facing the team that gave him his start in the BCHL.
Udy played seven games for the Vipers last year before being dealt to the Quesnel Millionaires. His experience with and against Vernon had Chiefs head coach Harvey Smyl hinting that he might be between the pipes when Chilliwack invades the Wesbild Centre.
“Playing with Vernon, I found it to be a great barn to play in because they’ve got such knowledgeable and passionate fans,” Udy said.
The Calgary native got his first start of the young season last weekend, getting the nod in a 6-4 win over the Salmon Arm Silverbacks. Udy stopped 23 of 27 pucks in a wild affair featuring odd-man rushes aplenty and dismal defensive coverage.
Udy was happy to be back in action after a tumultuous offseason. The 18-year-old was part of the roster shuffle from Quesnel to Chilliwack and found himself battling former teammate Adam Harris for a job at training camp.
“We were really good buddies in Quesnel, but the dynamic definitely changed when we got to Chilliwack,” Udy said. “We’d hang out during the day, but once we got to the rink we were kind of enemies. It was a tough scenario knowing only one of us was probably going to have a job.”
His birth certificate (two years younger than Harris) gave Udy a big leg up in the competition. Harris didn’t get much opportunity to prove himself before Smyl cut the 19-year-old loose.
“When he was let go, I was excited that I’d made the team, but it was also really tough to have a really good buddy leave the team and not know what’s going to happen for him,” Udy said.
An outstanding outing in the final preseason game in Merritt almost gave Udy the opening night start against Penticton.
Mitch Gillam got the eventual nod against the Vees, and Udy ended up going two weeks between starts.
Udy looked remarkably sharp despite the layoff, a testament to the work he puts in at practice.
“I try to stay focused and go through practices like I’m playing a game,” he explained. “I try to prepare as though I’m starting every game. Even if I don’t, I want to be ready whenever they want me to play.”
Just about every player will say the same thing.
Just about every player will also say there’s no substitute for live bullets.
“Especially for goalies too where every shot means something,” Udy admitted. “It’s definitely different, but you’ve still got to bring that mind-set to the rink every day.”
An optimistic guy by nature, Udy seems well suited to deal with the ebbs and flows of goaltending, never getting to high or to low.
That wasn’t always the way.
“I don’t let things get to me as much I did in bantam,” he said. “I had to change my mind-set, not sorry so much about what was going into the net as what I was keeping out of it.
Another thing that’s easy to say and difficult to do, even for veteran National Hockey League stoppers.
“My goalie coaches helped me a lot with that, and it got to where, when I got scored on I’d do the exact same thing,” Udy said. “Take a squirt of water on my face, wash it off, take a skate to the corner and come back and I’m ready to go. Blank slate.”
Udy had to do that four times against the Silverbacks in a game that was… difficult… for a goalie.
He could hardly be faulted on the goals that beat him, tick-tack-toe power play passes and top shelf wristers from 10 feet out.
Smyl admitted as much after the game, saying Udy was “hung out to dry” on several Salmon Arm scoring opportunities.
That’s the way it goes for a goalie sometimes, when he plays well and still ends up with a 4.00 goals-against average and .852 save percentage.
“Personally, I felt a little shaky at the beginning, but by the second period I felt a lot better,” Udy noted. “I made one save at the end of the first and felt a lot more comfortable. We had the lead and I just had to let in less goals than the other guy.”
After Friday night’s game in Vernon, Udy and company will head on to Westside for a Saturday night game with the Warriors.
If Udy has a favourite building in the BCHL, Royal LePage Place might be it.
“Their fans get pretty rowdy and that gets me pumped. Even if they’re yelling at me, it’s more fun,” he said. “It’s just a lot more fun when the fans are vocal and into the game.”
Udy and the Chiefs are back home Friday, Oct. 14 to host the Vipers.
Puck drop is 7 p.m.