IROQUOIS FALLS - Alex Chandler is confident that he can put the disappointment of a frustrating 2013-14 NOJHL campaign behind him.
The 20-year-old Scarborough native will be looking to stake his claim as the Abitibi Eskimos starting goaltender when training camp gets underway next month.
Chandler won the starting job with the Espanola Rivermen heading into the start of the 2013-14 season and enjoyed some early success, posting a 2.70 goals against average in four starts — the highlight being a 5-0 shutout of the Beavers in Blind River on Sept. 14.
Chandler also beat the Beavers 8-1 in Espanola on Oct. 6 and was on the losing end of a 5-3 loss to the Eskimos on Oct. 11.
“I was impressed, the game was really tight,” said Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“He kept them in the game. We should have scored at least seven goals, but he made some incredible saves.”
Chandler was unable to finish the game against the Eskimos, however, as he suffered a knee injury that would sideline him for the remainder of the season.
“We did try to get him last year, at the same time we were trying to get Mr. (Brody) Wagner, but Espanola didn’t want to let him go,” Gagne said.
“So, we got a hold of him this summer and we had some good communication and we signed him.
“I think we are going to have a really good goaltender.”
Chandler, who is working at a sports camp in Toronto, says he is 100% and does not feel his injury will have any impact on his play with the Eskimos.
“My knee has been 100% since sometime last year, he said.
“(After the injury) I came back down to Toronto for some rehab and I have been training down here with my goalie coach (David Belitski, of Belitski Elite Goaltending) for quite a few months.
“Things went really good, so I am really excited to start the year. I got a call from Abitibi and it seemed like it would be a really good fit.”
Heading into training camp, the Eskimos crease is wide open, with neither of last year’s duo — Wagner and Iroquois Falls native Sylvain Miron — returning.
Wagner is too old, while Miron will be attending university in the fall.
It doesn’t matter to Chandler, however, if the Eskimos’ other puck stopper is a rookie, or a veteran.
“It could be a younger guy coming in that I am helping to mentor, or an older guy and could be fighting for a starting position,” he said.
“I have got to be ready for either situation.”
The face of the NOJHL has changed significantly over the summer, with the Bobcats moving to Cochrane to become the Crunch, the Trappers moving to Mattawa to become the Blackhawks and the arrival of the Wildcats in Elliot Lake and the Voodoos in Powassan, but Chandler’s brief stint in Espanola gives him some idea of what to expect in 2014-15.
“I have seen the league for about a month, or a couple of months while I was injured and doing a bit of rehab there, so I did get to see all the teams and I know what the league is like,” said.
“I am really confident coming in that I know what I am getting myself into.”
In terms of style, Chandler likes to pattern his game after Los Angeles Kings star Jonathan Quick.
“I am not an overly tall goalie, I’m not 6-3, so I do like to play a very aggressive style and make sure I am always covering those backdoor opportunities,” he said.
“I am a very active goalie in net. My lateral movement is definitely my strong point, I would say, and I do like to get out there and play the puck a lot, sort of like a third D out there.
“I know we do have a good D corps coming back, so I think signing an older goaltender is a really good move by the team. I think I can definitely help out.”
As one might expect, having to sit almost the entire 2013-14 campaign after such a promising start was more than a little frustrating for Chandler.
“Yes, it was frustrating, in training camp my partner (Griffin Strain) was an older goaltender and I won the starting job in training camp and then after that, a few games in, I had an injury,” he said.
“It was a pretty big setback for me. It was tough. I had put a lot into coming up and making sure I was ready to go.”
Chandler has not experienced any lasting impact from his injury and he should be good to go when training camp opens.
“I have been doing a lot of on-ice stuff, working with other goalies, so it has been really good for me,” he said.
“I am on the ice all the time, two, three times a week, training with my goalie coach. Whenever I can get some game-time ice I try to do that, step on the ice in some game situations, in men’s leagues, etc.
“I am getting lots of ice and I am really confident, ready to go.
“I do a lot of coaching, too, which is kind of a cool thing. I am going to be helping out with Paul’ (Gagne Hockey Development) camp. I will be on the ice, helping out the young goalies there.”
Prior to joining the Rivermen last season, Chandler split the 2012-13 campaign between the Toronto Attack (6.98 goals against average, .722 saves percentage) and the Lefroy Wave (5.45, .875) of the Greater Metro Junior ‘A’ Hockey League.
ESKIMOS NOTES: The Eskimos have received confirmation that veteran blueliner Ryan Kerr will be back with the team for his third full NOJHL season. He will join a backend that also features veterans Kevin Walker, Kealey Cummings and Brennan Roy … The Eskimos Three-Person Scramble Golf Tournament will be held on Saturday, Aug. 2 at the Abitibi Golf Club, starting at 9 a.m. Teams of three golfers can register by visiting www.eskis.com/event/show/82808960 … The winner of the Eskimos Club Car Custom Gas Car draw will be announced at the tournament.