By PATRICK KING
Olivier Roy never met a challenge he didn’t accept with open arms.
The sophomore goaltender for the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles is as confident as they come and given the success he enjoyed in his first season, it’s not hard to see why. As teammate and captain Chris Culligan learned, giving Roy a challenge often brings negative results for the shooter.
“I pick on him all the time,” Culligan said. “If he lets in a weak or soft goal in practice or in a game, the guys will give it to him and he’ll come back and make a save and rub it in their faces.
“He’s the kind of guy that you can pick on and he’s going to come right back at you because he can take it and he knows that he can do the job when he’s in net.”
Culligan looks back on last year’s training camp as the first indication of the goaltender’s immense potential. After the departure of Ondrej Pavelec, many predicted Czech goaltender Marek Benda would be the team’s new starter. But as the third round draft pick battled, displaying his ultra-competitive nature, the team began taking notice.
“I think he kind of caught everyone by surprise,” Culligan said. “To be honest, he was the goalie that really stood out.”
Despite being two years younger than projected starter Benda, as far as Roy was concerned, the starting job was open for the taking.
“I knew the other goalie was a rookie too so we both had a chance to be the starter,” he said.
However, it wasn’t until an early season shoulder injury sidelined Benda that Roy got the chance to be the every day starter, a role he never relinquished.
“Olivier just jumped in and got better and better and better and became our No. 1 (goaltender),” said Mario Durocher, who was promoted to head coach and general manager this season. “He was working hard in practice and it paid off during the games and it built his confidence from there.”
Roy quickly emerged as one of the league’s top goaltenders while setting two 16-year-old rookie records with wins at 27 and shutouts with four. He also set the fourth longest shutout streak in league history at 167 minutes and 51 seconds while taking home the Québec Major Junior Hockey League’s rookie of the year honours.
The play of their rookie goaltender helped the Screaming Eagles avoid what looked to be a rebuilding season after losing the core of a team which went to the league semi-finals the year before. Instead of rebuilding, the Screaming Eagles went on to eliminate the defending league champion Lewiston MAINEiacs in the first round of the playoffs before losing to the top-ranked Halifax Mooseheads in the next round.
As both Durocher and Culligan said, Roy has the ability to raise his game when playing in pressure situations such as the playoffs. Instead of feeling pressure, which Roy almost appears immune, he looks at such matters as another opportunity to come ahead in the face of a challenge.
“To be a good goalie you need confidence,” Durocher said. “You have to believe in yourself and that’s one of his best qualities is he’s really confident.”
And from Roy’s confidence, the dominoes begin to fall as Culligan added that Roy’s demeanor, in turn, makes his teammates more confident about playing in front of him.
“They know that he’s confident that he’s going to make the stop and then it spreads throughout the team,” he said. “Guys get a little more confident in their game and less afraid to make a mistake because Olivier’s back there to make the save.”
“I like to challenge (the shooter) in front of me,” Roy said when describing his biggest strength. “It doesn’t matter who the player is in front of me, if it’s a big name or one of the guys I don’t know, I always challenge the guy.”
The six-foot, 167 pound Roy is continuing the tradition of solid goalkeeping in Cape Breton. Seven seasons ago, the Screaming Eagles boasted the top goaltender in junior hockey with Marc-André Fleury. From there, Pavelec emerged as one of the top goaltenders during his tenure from 2005 to 2007.
Culligan didn’t want to call it luck when asked about the team’s ability to find solid goaltenders.
“It’s hard to say it’s luck because that can kind of be a slap to the face of the scouting staff and our goalie coaches who have brought those guys along and helped them develop,” he said. “(Maybe) it’s a little bit of luck in just getting them here.”
Since Roy arrived in Cape Breton, the competitive spirit hasn’t wavered as he never backs down from a challenge.
“He doesn’t like to be scored on in practice,” Culligan said. “He’s not one to quit on plays or anything like that. If there’s a wide-open net, he’s going to dive across to try to stop the puck no matter if it’s a scrimmage, a game or a drill in practice.”
“I like the challenge,” Roy exclaimed. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a game or a practice; I like to stop every puck.”