During his stint as THN guest editor, Florida goalie Roberto Luongo interviewed Zach Fucale. The talk took on a mind of its own as the two kindred spirits bantered.
Roberto Luongo and Zach Fucale were born 16 years apart, but they do have several things in common: they’re both Quebec-born goalies and Quebec League stars born to Italian families, and they’ve each represented their country in high-stakes international competitions.
Fucale, 19, has yet to play an NHL game after his hometown Canadiens drafted him 36th overall in 2013, but he attended Canadiens camp this year and had just returned to his Halifax Mooseheads team to start the season. That’s where special guest editor-in-chief Luongo caught up with him for an exclusive, insightful talk, under the supervision of yours truly, that was more conversation than straight-ahead question-and-answer.
Roberto Luongo: Nice to talk to you, man. Thanks for this.
Zach Fucale: Nice to talk to you as well.
RL: Let’s get rolling. What was your favorite team growing up?
ZF: I grew up in Montreal, so it was hard to like any other team than the Canadiens. I went to the Bell Centre a lot to watch games.
RL: How did it feel when they drafted you? Exciting I bet.
ZF: Oh yeah. I don’t know if you saw my dad’s reaction at the draft, but it’s pretty funny. It was a big, big shock to everyone in the family – and to me, too. It was a dream come true, really.
RL: You just got back from Habs’ training camp. Did you learn anything? Did you work with Carey Price? How did it go?
ZF: I learned a lot. It was my second camp this year. I had good conversations with Stephane Waite, the goalie coach, and I watched a lot of practices. Facing the pro shots really helps.
RL: I remember my first Islanders camp. There’s a lot to take in as an 18-year-old. You’re looking at everything that’s happening and all the NHL guys, so it’s good that you soak that in and really enjoy it. Because at 18, it’s pretty good to go to an NHL camp. Next question: there’s a growing wisdom among NHL teams to avoid drafting a goalie in the first round. No goalies went in the first round the past two drafts, including 2013 when you were rated as a first-rounder. None went in the first round of 2007, 2009 and 2011. Why do you think it’s been like that?
ZF: It’s because of how the game changed and because of the knowledge goalies sometimes develop late and come on slower. With that knowledge, teams won’t see the direct impact of a goalie in their first or second year of being drafted.
RL: I was asked that same question the other day and I felt that, even though I feel goalie is the most important position, goalies are pretty much all the same nowadays. Everyone’s good, everyone can play, everyone’s going to have more or less the same save percentage. So for teams, there’s no difference if you draft the guy in the first or third or fourth round. Teams know they can still develop that player into an NHL goalie. Everybody is so bunched together as far as talent is concerned, and teams will just try and find a guy who they can get right away and play, like you said.
ZF: From abroad or in a trade.
RL: Exactly. Back in the day, it seemed like there was a new excellent French goalie every day, every year. Now you don’t see that as much, because Europe has caught up to the rest of us, and now everybody has great goalies. Next question: Many NHL goalies spend five to seven seasons after their draft year apprenticing in development leagues. Are you comfortable with that sort of timeline?
ZF: Everyone has their own path. As a goalie, we’re all different in our own ways and if it takes two years, good, but if it takes five, I’ll be just as happy. My goal is to play in the NHL just like you, so to me, if it’s in six years, or three years, my goal is the same.
RL: That’s good. Like you said, the key is to be patient with whatever the process is. I was one of the lucky ones. I got my shot when I was 20 and I started playing right away. But you don’t see that anymore and sometimes guys get frustrated. But if you’re patient and keep working hard, for sure you’ll be there – hopefully before I retire, so we can play against each other.
ZF: And things move so fast now. Opportunities come up when they’re least expected.
RL: Injuries, trades, you’re right. The key is, you got to be ready. And when you get your shot you’ve got to take advantage of that. So what are your expectations for yourself going into the season? Do you think you guys have a good squad? Are you going back to the Memorial Cup? Personal goals?
ZF: I didn’t set anything too precise right away. The Canadiens and my goalie coach want me to take things day by day, game by game and improve that way. It’ll help me not think too much and just focus on what I have to do to help the team win. I’m expecting a really good year from the team here in Halifax.
RL: I’m the same way. When I was younger I used to try to set goals numbers wise, but as I got older I just wanted to be at my top every day. Just learn and improve and be as consistent as possible. The numbers will take care of themselves at the end of the year, as long as you know you work hard and you’re focused on playing your position.
ZF: So you don’t pay attention at all to your numbers, ever?
RL: No, I do, but I don’t set goals for myself at the beginning of the year. I’m known as a slow starter. Every year, I start off with an .895 save percentage after a month. If I start looking at that, I’ll go crazy, so I keep working at it, and I know that by the time December and January roll around, I’ll be back to where I want to be. Obviously, you always want to be around .920, but for me the main thing is to be as consistent as possible. We’re all going to have bad games and bad stretches, but if you can limit the bad stretches to one or two or three games instead of five to eight games, that’s what I try to focus on. Last question: we’re both from Montreal, we’re both Italian, we both played for Canada. Is there anything else we have in common?
ZF: We also both played in the “Q”. But being Italian, there’s nothing else to say…(Laughs)
RL: I know! That’s all that matters. (Laughs)
ZF: I have questions for you.
RL: OK, fire away.
ZF: How did you handle the pressure of a Stanley Cup run, the Olympics, the trade rumors, playing in a big and tough market like Vancouver, all at once?
RL: When I was younger, a lot of that stuff weighed on me, and it took away from my focus of playing goal. But as I’ve gotten older, especially the last three, four, five years, I learned that stuff is separate from hockey. I play in the NHL and I don’t want to take that for granted. I play in the best league in the world, I do what I love and even though sometimes it’s hard to enjoy it because you’re going through tough times or there’s a lot of pressure, I just say to myself, “I’m playing in the NHL, that was my dream as a kid and I just want to enjoy the moment, whatever that moment is.” Whether it’s in the final, at the Olympics, or being in a tough stretch, you have to find the joy of playing. Usually that’s how I turn it back around: when I’m down on myself or I’m frustrated, as soon as I start enjoying myself and not worrying about all the bad stuff, I start turning things around.
ZF: When you left the Q, what mental, technical, or physical things did you change to succeed at the pro level?
RL: I’m sure it’s different nowadays than when I was a junior. Now even junior kids, they’re all about fitness and eating right. When I was younger, it wasn’t that important. Nowadays, you just want to make sure you’re always working out hard in the summer. You show up to camp fit and ready to play. You’re always working on your game. I like to go on the ice about a month and a half before training camp. I don’t do scrimmages, I don’t do shinny hockey. I just do goalie practices for a month and a half straight.
ZF: You’ve done that your whole career?
RL: Over the last eight to 10 years, when I was younger, I didn’t think about it as much, I was more loosey-goosey and messing around with the guys on the ice. But I realize hockey’s not just from September to April or whenever the playoffs end. Hockey’s 12 months. Unfortunately, my wife, she’s learned to see that. Sometimes it takes away from putting the family ahead of hockey, but until your career is over, hockey has to come before everything else.
ZF: In summer do you take a lot of time off? Are you always on the ice, or do you sometimes focus only on off-ice training?
RL: Once the season is over, I like to take, depending on how hard the year has been, two to three weeks off where I don’t do anything. I cycle a lot outside, so I usually start my summer training by cycling three to five times a week. This year I started hitting the gym in May because I was done in early April. So I go to the gym four times a week. I usually hit the ice end of July. Once I go on the ice, though, I am there about four times a week. And once I’m there, I’m dedicated to just working on my game.
ZF: That’s great. Thanks for the interview and for answering my questions. It’s been an honor.
RL: Thank you, man. Good luck this year. I hope you do well.