Zach Fucale walks alone down the red carpet to centre ice at the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax. Around his neck hangs the world junior gold medal he won the week before while backstopping Canada to an intense 5–4 win over Russia in the final game. He flashes an ear-to-ear smile, a smile that’s often hidden behind the cage of his goalie mask. The crowd is on its feet, rocking with excitement, riled up from watching a video of Fucale’s achievements, which include winning the President Cup on home ice as a member of the 2013 QMJHL champion Halifax Mooseheads; going on to win the CHL’s biggest prize, the Memorial Cup, in Saskatoon that same year; and most recently, winning world junior gold in Toronto. Players from both the Mooseheads and visiting Blainville-Boisbriand Armada tap their sticks on the ice to show respect for the 19-year-old. Fucale takes the microphone and thanks Mooseheads management, coaching staff, his family and the fans in Halifax before performing the ceremonial puck drop. Fucale, who has played many of his 236 Mooseheads games in this arena, is strictly here as a guest tonight to say goodbye.
“I’m happy I got the chance to come back and see the guys one more time before I go,” says Fucale.
Fucale, along with defenceman Matt Murphy, was traded to the Québec Remparts while at Canada’s selection camp on December 19. There had been persistent trade rumours dating back to the QMJHL draft in Sherbrooke this past June, linking Fucale to the Memorial Cup hosts to fill what was, on paper, their biggest hole entering the season. Because the trade happened after Fucale had already left Halifax, he didn’t have the proper chance to say goodbye to his teammates. In a rare moment in sports, Fucale was able to return 22 days later for a formal farewell.
Fucale, simply known as Fucs (pronounced Fooks) to his teammates, was a popular player both on and off the ice in Halifax. He’s known to talk a lot–former Halifax teammate Timo Meier joked that he was going to give Fucale a muzzle for Christmas because he talks so much. A leader on the ice, Fucale sometimes sounds like a quarterback reading the play, identifying where players are and sharing his analysis with the team.
“Thanks for putting up with me all the time, talking all the time,” Fucale says in his farewell speech, aware of his reputation.
Glad I got to turn the page in Halifax! Just got here in Quebec and can't wait to get started !! #Remparts
— Zach Fucale (@Fucale31) January 13, 2015
Meier describes Fucale as a calm player who is mentally strong in big situations and is able to teach his teammates how to prepare for those situations.
“We know what it means for those guys to get another chance to play in the Memorial Cup,” says Meier. “We’re happy and sad at the same time.”
— Timo Meier (@MeierTimo) January 5, 2015
Halifax forward Nikolaj Ehlers says he was already feeling the strangeness of losing his teammate when Canada squared off against Denmark in the world junior tournament. Ehlers played for the Danish squad that lost 8-0 to Canada in the quarterfinals.
“He’s a great guy, we’ve had a lot of great moments together. It’s going to be hard on us, but we got a new really good goalie and Fucs is going to be happy in Québec,” says Ehlers who was on the ice for Fucale’s farewell, a moment he describes as being really emotional.
In Quebec, Fucale will be chasing the rare feat of being a goaltender who has won more than one Memorial Cup trophy. In 1983, the tournament added a host team to go along with the winners of the Quebec, Western and Ontario hockey leagues. Since then, only two goalies have won the trophy more than once. Mark Fitzpatrick won twice with the Medicine Hat Tigers in 1987 and 1988. He also won the Hap Emms Memorial Trophy handed out to the best goalie of the tournament. The most recent goalie to repeat was Rod Branch with the Kelowna Rockets in 1994 and 1995, although he played as a backup in both tournaments despite being a key member of both teams in the playoffs and regular season.
As hosts, the Remparts have had lots of time to prepare for the tournament. In the off-season, they brought in defenceman Nikolas Brouillard from Drummondville, currently second among D-men for scoring in the league. They also acquired centre Marc-Olivier Roy, a second-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers, and defenceman Ryan Graves, a fourth-round pick of the New York Rangers. During the regular season, they picked up Vladimir Tkachev, a dynamic Russian forward who almost made the Oilers out of training camp but had his contract ruled ineligible because he played a couple games in the KHL last season.
Fucale is up for the challenge in Quebec. “Knowing that we are going to be there we can just focus on getting better every day, becoming a team and preparing ourselves for that moment,” says Fucale. “Everyone loves to play in Quebec City. It’s an awesome rink, fans are extremely passionate. It’ll be very special and my parents are going to come catch a couple games for sure. It’s a little closer to home,” says Fucale, who hails from Rosemère, part of greater Montreal.
Still, leaving Halifax will likely be hard for Fucale. In his rookie season of 2011–12, he won the Raymond Lagacé Trophy, which is handed out to the defensive rookie of the year. That same year, he was part of a team that stormed back to erase a 3-0 series deficit and win in game seven in overtime against the Remparts, a game in which Fucale had 41 saves. In his second season, he finished with 45 wins and eight. That off-season, he was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens with the 36th overall pick in the second-round. He holds the team record for goalie wins with 126, ahead of Jean-Sébastien Giguere. He also set the record for being the first goalie to record 100 wins in under 150 games.
“I’m going to miss everything about it. It was a great time from start to finish and I’m certainly never going to forget all these moments I got to live here. I feel really, really lucky to have [been on] the teams I’ve played on and [for] the staff that helped me, and everyone along the way,” says Fucale. “I’ll never forget Halifax, that’s for sure.”
The next chapter of Fucale’s career is off to a good start as he picked up a shutout in his debut with the Remparts on Wednesday night, turning aside 11 shots in the win. It’s the start of a chapter with one purpose: Win another Memorial Cup.