Column: Pasquale ready to take the next step

Robin
Robin Short
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Young Eddie Pasquale, growing up in the Greater Toronto Area, stopped minor hockey pucks and street hockey balls with visions of making saves for the Maple Leafs, probably, in the Big Show.

Eddie Pasquale makes a save with future St. John’s IceCaps’’ teammate Jerome Samson on the doorstep during a scrimmage at the Winnipeg Jets training camp in October. Pasquale hopes to be a full-time Jet next season. — Canadian Press file photo

Nothing new there. Ask any hockey-playing youngster if he – yes, she as well – aspires to skate in the National Hockey League.

The difference is Pasquale, since then, has enjoyed a sip of the NHL coffee. Now he wants the extra large, double double.

Thing is, Pasquale has to be patient, and while that’s easier said than done, the 22-year-old St. John’s IceCaps puckstop has been doing a good job tending goal in the American Hockey League while waiting for his crack up top, as they say.

“The last little while,” said St. John’s coach Keith McCambridge, “on the (recent six-game) road trip, especially, he was making key saves when we needed those stops.

“One of the things I gauge is whether our goalie is better than the opposition’s goalie, and I thought for the majority of the road trip, he was that.”

Pasquale made a big splash in St. John’s two years ago, making the AHL’s All-Rookie team and leading the IceCaps to the Eastern Conference final.

Last season was a bit of a wash, as St. John’s failed to make the playoffs and Pasquale’s play was good, but not great.

Now he’s back for a third season, and beginning to show flashes of the game he brought to the rink in 2011-12.

Things change, especially in the hockey world, but the grand plan of the Winnipeg Jets is to move Pasquale into a full-time NHL backup role to starter Ondrej Pavelec next year, replacing Al Montoya who is destined become a free agent at the end of this season.

Nobody knows this better than Pasquale, although the Jets certainly have not relayed that message to the IceCaps’ keeper.

So you could understand if Pasquale wasn’t looking ahead just a bit to next year, not that he will ever admit as much.

“Yeah, it’s tough,” he said of keeping his eye on the puck, as it were, this season. “You grow up playing hockey, and you’re thinking about playing in the National Hockey League some day.

“But it doesn’t really strike you until you get to the NHL. I was honoured to go up last year (on a short recall), because it’s hard to crack that league. Only the best of the best are there. If I do get there next year, it will probably be a surreal experience.

“But I try not to look at or think about stuff like that. I just try to play the game. Because no matter where you play, if you don’t play well, someone else gets your job.”

See LOTS, page A29

Just as the IceCaps have been so-so this season, Pasquale has had his moments. His 2.42 goals against average is 19th amongst AHL goalies, and his .925 save percentage is 10th.

Difference is, however, he’s playing a ton of minutes, second only to Martin Jones, who is in town this weekend with the Manchester Monarchs.

And he’s got the second-most saves of any goalie in the AHL, again to Jones.

“I just want to play, and play a lot,” said Pasquale, echoing the thoughts of just about any hockey goaltender. “Because when you play, you get into a routine.

“I don’t look at save percentage or goals against because I don’t think those numbers tell the whole story. I look more at wins because that’s what you’re going for. If you win a game 6-5, yeah, at the end of the day you let in five goals but you got the win. You can lose a game 1-0, and you might think you’ve played great, but you still lost.”

On that note, Pasquale is tied for fifth in the league with five wins.

“I thought it took him a little while to get his feet under him at the beginning of the year,” said McCambridge, “to get his timing, to get his game to the level it needs to be.

“But as of where we sit now, he’s playing some real strong hockey for us.”

He’s still the same Eddie Pasquale who landed in St. John’s with a year of pro hockey experience under his belt with Chicago of the AHL and the ECHL’s Gwinnett Gladiators.

He still has the gap-toothed grin, and you still have to listen carefully when he whispers after games or practice.

But, in many ways, it’s a more mature Pasquale we’re seeing now. He is, by definition, a pro.

“What I’ve noticed with Eddie is he’s really driven this year,” McCambridge said. “He comes in early to work out, he does all the extra stuff, and he’s really focused.

“He wants to get to the National league. You can see that just by the way he carries himself. And as an organization, yes, we would like to see exactly what Eddie Pasquale can bring this year.

“Obviously, the next step for him is to be a backup in Winnipeg.

This year is an important year not only for him, but for the organization to see exactly where he’s at and what we have in him.”

Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email rshort@thetelegram.com. Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort

Organizations: American Hockey League, National Hockey League, IceCaps National Hockey League.The Winnipeg Jets

Geographic location: Chicago

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