The Washington Capitals’ postseason hopes had long been dashed when the team turned to Reid Cooper, a 24-year-old college goaltender, to be the backup in the team’s season finale.
Cooper never saw the ice as the Capitals fell to the New Jersey Devils, 5-4, on April 13. As fast as he became the top hockey story of the day, he quickly fell back to the role of unknown college student — albeit with some stories to tell.
With a few goalie contracts expiring in the Capitals organization this offseason, Cooper may not be the only amateur tryout working his way into the hearts of fans.
Hershey goalie Zach Fucale — an unrestricted free agent this offseason — didn’t last long on the market, inking a deal with the KHL’s Traktor Chelyabinsk on Monday. With his departure goes the organization’s lone goalie with NHL experience, save for concrete big leaguers Kuemper and Charlie Lindgren.
Hunter Shepard, who turned in a career year in his first full-season taste of the AHL, is also set to hit the market. At 27-years old, Shepard carries a 1.85 goals against average into the Calder Cup Finals, making him arguably the team’s postseason MVP.
Obligatory Hunter Shepard appreciation tweet 🤯 pic.twitter.com/UIAGOEO8rl
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) February 5, 2023
Fucale’s NHL experience — four games during the 2021-22 season — was limited, and Shepard’s late bloom may be less than ideal for a player entering his late 20s. But at a minimum, the pair have combined for more than 350 games of professional experience — much more than those waiting in the wings of the Capitals organization.
Clay Stevenson tallied 36 games for the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL this season, finishing with the league’s second-best goals against average in the regular season. He narrowly edged out, among others, teammate Tyler Wall for that title, who started 35 games in net.
Whether the Capitals decide to promote from within or not, the team still has questions to answer in net this offseason.