Off the ice, Zach Fucale is soft-spoken, modest as he reflects on the rather unorthodox, long journey to the Washington Capitals crease. It hasn’t been an easy road, and it’s one Fucale’s still traveling on, whether he’s playing NHL minutes or not.
On the ice, Fucale says he’s “always yelling” and having a blast, making the most out of what has been a mesmerizing experience so far.
“Every day is a good opportunity,” Fucale explained. “You always have to prove yourself in this league. Every day, you have to prove yourself. [It’s] a real nice challenge and it’s really exciting… I’m real passionate about playing hockey, and this is just a great opportunity.”
The Laval, Quebec native grew up a fan of former Capitals goalie Jose Theodore, whose number 60 he now dons when he’s up in D.C. Fittingly, Fucale’s pro career started in 2013 when he went to Montreal in the second round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. However, the jump to the NHL wasn’t a quick turnaround and wasn’t with that same organization. Instead, he bounced around several different leagues, including the AHL, ECHL, DEL and beyond, while also minding the net for 13 other clubs before signing with Washington back in 2020.
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Though the past eight years haven’t been easy, filled with travel, changes in scenery and over 200 games at a myriad of different levels, the 26-year-old is thankful for that time around the world.
“I’ve been around a lot of different places, a lot of different situations, teams, leagues, all those things. International as well. I think it just gave me a lot of self-awareness in my game. Awareness of what I need to perform and what are the things I do when I am at my best,” Fucale said. “Those things usually help when you’re having a tough stretch. It helps you come back quicker. But it’s all about experience. You talk about 200-something games, all these experience, I put in my bag. Just got to focus on what gives me success. Nothing more, nothing less. Just focus on the things that give me results.”
To open his tenure with the Capitals organization, he had a standout season with the AHL’s Hershey Bears, leading the AHL in GAA (1.80) and ranking second in save percentage (.932) back in 2021. Fucale and Pheonix Copley also secured the Harry “Hap” Holmes Award for the lowest combined GAA among AHL goaltenders.
That standout 2020-21 campaign put him on the radar, and also caught the attention of head coach Peter Laviolette.
“I think that sometimes the traveled road is sometimes the best road,” Laviolette said. “His wasn’t a straight, right path paved in gold. Like you said, it had some bumps and it had some U-turns. And there were some stumbles along the way. But when you pick yourself up and you keep working at it, those paths are sometimes the best paths.”
Fucale’s play earned him a number of call-ups this season and ultimately, led to his NHL debut on Nov. 11 against the Detroit Red Wings. He posted a 21-save shutout and became the first netminder in franchise history to allow zero goals in his first career game. With Vitek Vanecek ill over the past weekend, Fucale also got time in net during the Capitals’ back-to-back games against St. Louis and Minnesota.
After coming in off the bench for Samsonov in the third period of the Blues games, Fucale made all seven stops against and earned the start in Minnesota, where he stopped 21 of 22 shots and also set an NHL record for the longest start to a career without allowing a goal (138:17 minutes).
His play earned him his second consecutive start on Monday against Boston, one that Laviolette said is well-deserved.
“You get opportunities in life, you got to make the most of them… he came up and he did the job in his first [game] in, he did the job when he came off the bench and I thought he gave us a heck of a performance in Minnesota,” Laviolette noted. “So he’s earned the right to go back in there.”
ZACH FUCALE YOU ARE NOT HUMAN pic.twitter.com/qNJBxArbzp
— NBC Sports Capitals (@NBCSCapitals) January 9, 2022
And, if Fucale can keep it up, the coaching staff could have a lot to consider with regard to netminding situation. Samsonov and Vanecek have formed the team’s main tandem over the last two seasons, but there hasn’t been too much consistency between the pipes of late. Enter Fucale, whose performance has been solid in a small sample size, and there’s plenty to consider.
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In the end, Fucale is ready to do what he can between the pipes, and for him, the key to success is repetition and putting an emphasis on mental toughness.
“Mistakes happen in a game, and they’re going to happen. It’s not my first one, not my last one. AHL, NHL, whatever it is, there’s going to be some tough breaks, some bounces, some mistakes. It’s how you bounce back, really, how you come back. You erase that right away… every day is a new opportunity to prove that again. You’ve just got to stay focused no matter what’s going on around you. You’ve just got to stay on task.
“…For me, I just have to ride the wave and, I’m going to say the same thing I said the other day, just look 10 feet in front of me and go from there. If it’s another start, whatever the situation is, just deal with it when it comes and that’s that. That’s all you can do at this point because there’s so many uncontrollables, you’ve just got to go with the flow.”