Amidst all the red and white on the ice at Hockey Canada’s inaugural national under-17 development camp this week, there is a bit of blue – Bluenosers, that is.
Among the group of twelve goaltenders invited to the camp being held at the Markin MacPhail Centre in Calgary, three of them hail from Nova Scotia. Halifax natives Mark Grametbauer and Reilly Pickard, along with Lower Sackville’s Evan Fitzpatrick have each been given an opportunity to vie for a spot on one of Canada’s three national U17 rosters for November’s World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Sarnia, Ont.
While he says it is an honour to be one of the dozen netminders on the ice this week, Grametbauer has a hard time explaining how he and his two friends from the Nova Scotia Major Midget Hockey League (NSMMHL) have made it this far in the selection process.
“I’ve got no idea,” he laughs. “I think that the Nova Scotia guys have been working extremely hard lately and trying to get themselves on the map more often.”
One such example is Halifax’s Mason McDonald, a second-round pick of the Calgary Flames at June’s NHL Entry Draft, who Grametbauer believes has become a role model for goalies in the province. At the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship, McDonald was named the tournament’s top netminder and helped Canada capture bronze.
“Looking at Mason McDonald is definitely a [motivator] for me,” says Grametbauer. “He was in my shoes when he was younger, he went through all of the same things I am [going through] so that keeps my spirit up and makes me want to push harder to get that little bit of extra [training] done.”
This is the second time in two months that Grametbauer (2.10 GAA, .933 SV%), Pickard (2.00 GAA, .930 SV%) and Fitzpatrick (2.31 GAA, .923 SV%), who finished in the top three in goals against average in the NSMMHL this past season, have been invited to a development camp in Calgary. In June, they were among the 16 goalies who took part in the ninth annual Program of Excellence goaltending camp.
Ryan Jankowski, Hockey Canada’s head scout of men’s national teams, worked closely with regional scouts to pare the list from 16 goalies to 12 with representation from across the country: Ontario (four), Quebec (one), Manitoba (one), Alberta (one) and B.C. (one).
He admits he was a bit surprised to see a quarter of the goaltenders coming to camp from Nova Scotia.
“I think [I was] and yet, I don’t really hold any biases,” Jankowski says. “I just know that we’ve got 12 Canadian goaltenders. They’ve earned their way here.
“Is it coincidental? Possibly. But it also shows that Nova Scotia may be doing a real good job with their goaltenders as well.”
Darren Sutherland, director of operations for one of the three U17 national teams and development director of Hockey Nova Scotia, says his branch has put a greater focus on goaltending in the last few years.
“Obviously, [Grametbauer, Pickard and Fitzpatrick] are three really good goalies and really good kids so that’s part of it, but I really do think you’ll see more of this,” Sutherland says.
Sutherland credits improved coaching and a greater emphasis on goalie coaching at the grassroots level in Nova Scotia for some of that success.
But to have success in Calgary, Grametbauer believes it is all about hard work.
“You can’t do anything more than your top,” says Grametbauer. “Keep practicing and keep working hard and hopefully everything will fall in to place.”
And if those falling pieces mean representing Canada in Sarnia with Pickard and Fitzpatrick?
“That would be amazing.”