Back in 2013, Zach Fucale was the first goalie taken in the National Hockey League’s (NHL) Entry Draft. The Montreal Canadians selected him with the 36th overall pick in the second round. There were high hopes for his future, but unfortunately for Fucale, he never lived up to those expectations and his career seemed to be at a crossroads.
The Washington Capitals threw him a lifeline this past off-season by signing him to one-year, two-way contract on August 19, 2020. The expectation was that Fucale would play with the Hershey Bears and provide the Capitals with additional organizational goalie depth. He’s far surpassed expectations so far, stopping 56 of 57 shots he’s faced in two games played.
Washington nor Hershey had any idea what they were going to get out of Fucale. He hadn’t enjoyed much success in recent years and spent most of his time in the ECHL. During the 2018-19 season, the Laval, Quebec native saw action in five AHL games with the Chicago Wolves, going 1-3 and posting a .903 save percentage. He spent the rest of the season with the Fort Wayne Comets of the ECHL. He won 20 games in Fort Wayne, but his numbers weren’t strong, with a 3.18 goals against average and an .894 save percentage.
Last season, Fucale only played in a single game in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Syracuse Crunch. He surrendered three goals on 15 shots in that game and took the loss. Fucale played in 24 games with the Crunch’s ECHL affiliate, the Orlando Solar Bears. His numbers were better than they were the previous season with Fort Wayne, but his record did not show it. He went 10-8-4, but posted a solid .928 save percentage and a 2.36 goals against average. Fucale was released from his contact in February and subsequently signed with EHC Red Bull Munchen in Germany. He never played a game with Red Bull Munchen due to am injury and the cancellation of the DEL season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Six games in the AHL in the past two seasons led to question marks on how Fucale would play for Hershey. He played in one game for South Carolina before heading to Washington for the NHL training camp and then spent the next month and a half on the Capitals’ taxi squad.
Finally, Fucale was sent to the Bears prior to their game against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on February 20. He showed no signs of rust. He was busy in the first period and stopped 12 of the 13 shots he faced. The only one that got by him was a power play marker by Zach Nastasiuk. The netminder again saw 13 shots in the second period. This time, no shots got past him and he was a big reason why the Bears led 2-1 after two periods. In the third period, Hershey was on their heels for most of the period as Wilkes-Barre/Scranton controlled much of the play. Fucale was up to the task though, and turned away all nine shots directed his way. He was named the game’s number two star with only Connor McMichael’s first professional hat trick preventing him for being the number one star.
Fucale’s strong start should have earned him another start. However, Ilya Samsonov was sent back down to the Bears and started the next two games. Fucale got the net back on February 27 against the Binghamton Devils after Samsonov returned to Washington and picked up right where he left off in his first start. In the opening period, the Bears were outshot seven to six, but led 1-0 after the first thanks to Fucale stopping every shot that came his way. He made a right pad save through traffic on Ben Street with just over eight minutes elapsed in the period. Then, he stoned Marian Studenic from in close with just over a minute left in the first stanza to keep Hershey in front. Fucale was not busy in the second period, seeing only three shots. He saved all three of those and the Bears increased their lead to 2-0.
The Devils came to life in the third period firing 12 shots at Fucale. He turned aside a puck that deflected off of Danick Martel with the Devils on the power play a minute into the final period. He also went left to right to deny Travis St. Denis from right in front with 9:03 remaining in regulation. Fucale was tested again with six minutes left. He stopped the initial shot and then moved to his right to deny Studenic’s rebound attempt. Fucale earned his first shutout as a Bear and earned is the right word to describe his play. He was forced to make several high quality saves in the third period to preserve his 3-0, shutout victory. He was rewarded for his play by being named the game’s first star.
Fucale’s play has earned him the confidence of the coaching staff. In his post-game press conference on February 27, head coach Spencer Carbery called Fucale’s play “phenomenal” and credited him with making 10 high quality saves. Carbery also praised Fucale for the positive energy and enthusiasm that he brings to the team.
With his play thus far, Fucale will likely see more starts. Pheonix Copley is back from Washington and will get his starts as well, but it does not hurt to have two top notch goalies. The Bears have had great success in the Carbery era rolling with two goalies. It was a question mark whether or not Hershey would have the ability to do that this season, but Fucale has made a statement that the Bears still have one of the best goalie tandems in the AHL.
Carbery said that he thinks Fucale is on a “redemption tour” to prove that he is a NHL caliber goalie. That may be the case, but maybe it just took Fucale a little more time to develop. Sometimes it takes goalies longer to develop into a quality NHL goalie.
Fucale had a lot of pressure on him after being drafted high and had the added pressure of being a French-Canadian prospect for his home province’s team. That is a lot for a young goalie out of juniors to handle. Now, Fucale has found his game and the Hershey Bears are reaping the benefits of his play.
By Eric Lord