Warriors goalie seeking success with under-18 national team
Zach Sawchenko has worked hard all summer to take advantage of the opportunities he will get this season.
© Times-Herald photo by Matthew Gourlie
Moose Jaw Warriors goalie Zach Sawchenko stretches to rob Prince Albert Raiders forward Collin Valcourt at the side of the net in WHL action from last season at Mosaic Place.
He has already taken advantage of one as he claimed one of the two goaltending spots on the Canadian under-18 national hockey team.
The Moose Jaw Warriors goalie and his Canadian teammates begin play at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup Monday morning.
"I think I've been on top of my game. Every day we're chipping away and trying to get better as a team. Right now I'm focused on the task at hand and I'm more than ready to embrace it here," Sawchenko said from Breclav, Czech Republic after Canada beat the Czechs 7-5 in a pre-tournament game.
Canada opens the tournament against Switzerland as they look to win their seventh straight Hlinka title.
Sawchenko has worked with Crash Conditioning in his hometown of Calgary and he credited them with helping him prepare for what has been a busy summer on the ice.
"This summer I worked on my flexibility and quickness and things like that," said Sawchenko. "I though I played really well (in camp) and I was fortunate enough to make the team. I'm just real honoured to be here."
Sawchenko and Callum Booth from the Qu√©bec Remparts won the two goaltending jobs for the under-18 team.
Hockey Canada invited eight under-18 goalies to their summer goalie camp and then four of those to their final under-18 selection camp. Hockey Canada goalie coach Corey Hirsch has been impressed with Sawchenko throughout the process.
"He was very good in the three intrasquad games that we had and he was good again (Saturday)," said Hirsch who is with the under-18s in Slovakia. "He seems like he's a very level-headed, focused kid. He seems to know what he wants and he has a very good demeanour for a goalie.
"He's mentally very strong. His skills are really good. We'd like a little more time with him, but he's been pretty impressive so far."
The Program of Excellence goaltending camp took place in June in Calgary and featured 34 goalies and 15 goalie coaches all working together.
"It was great. Hockey Canada put together a really great camp. It was a really good experience for me," said Sawchenko. "They were a lot of great goalie coaches out there and they all have different opinions on things. You take every little thing you can and I like to put them into my tool box and use it towards making my game better."
Sawchenko made a good debut in Saturday's exhibition game. Canada trailed 4-2 midway through the second period when he took over in goal. The first shot he faced was a penalty shot, but Roman Dymacek missed the net. He only allowed one goal the rest of the way and made nine saves in the third period as the Canadians rallied to win the game.
"I was very happy with how I played. The team made it easier for me and I can't thank them enough," said Sawchenko.
Sawchenko had previously played at a tournament in Prague in the Czech Republic in 2010, so the experience at the Hlinka isn't totally foreign to him.
"He was poised. He didn't show much for nerves. He was calm and very poised. I was impressed," said Hirsch.
Last year at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, Sawchenko made 48-saves in a 4-0 loss in the final against the United States. He finished with a 4-1 record with Team Pacific and posted a 2.40 goals-against-average in the tournament. He parlayed that experience into a strong second half of the season in the WHL. He is hoping to do the same with this latest international experience.
"They kind of go hand-in-hand ‚ÄĒ if you have a good Hlinka you carry that momentum right into camp," said Sawchenko.
After making 22 starts in goal in his rookie season, the 16-year-old wants to push for more regular starting time and an increased workload in his second season in the WHL.
"That's the goal this year and that's what I've worked towards all summer. That being said the big goal is to make the playoffs this year. As a team we'll do everything we can to make the post-season," said Sawchenko who had a 9-13-0-1 record last season with the Warriors to go along with a .885 save percentage and a 3.63 goals-against-average. "I'm excited to get back to Moose Jaw for this next season and get things going."
With his Dec. 31 birthday, Sawchenko is still deceptively young. Like all young goalies, there are things he can improve oh, but Hirsch feels he's got a lot of the tools needed to be a long-term success.
"At times he can get a little over-aggressive which gets him into trouble," said Hirsch who spent parts of seven seasons in the NHL and won an Olympic silver medal in 1994. "He's the type of kid where his biggest thing is that he just needs to get bigger and stronger. He's already in good shape, but if he really wants to be a pro he's going to have to be committed to his off-ice workouts and be in the best shape he can so he gives himself a chance to play at the next level."