Madison, WI— Capitols goaltender Garrett Metcalf (Salt Lake City, Utah) has had, by no means, a standard hockey career progression.
At age 19, Metcalf is coming off a year that saw his development take off exponentially. After going undrafted in the 2014 USHL Draft, he successfully earned his spot on the Capitols’ inaugural roster following a strong training camp between the pipes.
His USHL debut was equally strong, as he turned aside 27 Sioux Falls shots before ultimately taking a hard-luck 1-0 loss on Oct. 17.
In six of his 10 victories in the 2014-15 season, he made 30 or more saves, including a 35-save shutout performance on Jan. 16 against the Anderson Cup Champion Youngstown Phantoms, a lineup littered with NHL Draft picks and offensive firepower.
What Metcalf did not realize at the time, though, was that the Phantoms’ draft picks would not be the only ones on the ice come June. Known for being a goalie factory, the Anaheim Ducks decided they had room for one more, declaring Metcalf as their sixth round selection at 179th overall.
“I never, in a million years, thought I would ever go (in the NHL Draft),” said Metcalf, who adds that teams started calling him consistently in the late spring and early summer.
On Saturday afternoon, that dream became real. Metcalf, en route to Anaheim just 48 hours later, remains unsure if he has grasped the magnitude of the accomplishment.
“I was watching (draft coverage) on my phone, and I went to refresh the page and all of a sudden I got a call from my agent,” Metcalf said of the big moment. “It was a pretty awesome feeling, but I honestly don’t think it has hit me that I’ve been drafted into the NHL.”
The Utah native is in unique and prideful company, as just four Salt Lake City natives have ever played in the NHL, including two-time Stanley Cup champion Trevor Lewis of the Los Angeles Kings.
Drafted by a team on his native west coast, Metcalf fittingly models himself after a man whose job he will chase in the years that follow.
“Anaheim has an unbelievable program, and believe it or not, my favorite goalie is (Ducks starter) Frederik Andersen,” Metcalf says. “I try to emulate my game like him. I think if I just continue to progress and try to use my size and play like he does, it’d be a great experience for me if I do end up playing for the Anaheim Ducks. I think I’d fit in well.”
Despite the enormity of his draft honor, Metcalf does not see it as something that alters his own preparations.
“Everything will pretty much stay the same,” Metcalf said. “It’s just another set of eyes watching me. It’s a good feeling to know that your future is set out for the next 10 years or whatever it may be. I can focus on playing and not worry about if I’m going to get drafted or where I’m going to go to college.”
To that end, prior to Anaheim’s choosing of him, Metcalf also discovered his future NCAA hockey plans, committing to the University of Massachusetts at Lowell on March 11. It will not be foreign territory at all, as he joins Caps teammates Guillaume Leclerc and Ryan Lohin as River Hawk commits.
The River Hawks are no strangers to housing goalies of big stature. The 6-foot-3 Metcalf will follow in the footsteps of 6-foot-4 Connor Hellebuyck, a current prospect for the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets. Also unheralded prior to his time in the North American Hockey League, Hellebuyck went on to rattle off 38 wins in just two seasons at Lowell, posting staggering save percentages above .940 in both years. In 2014, he became the first ever winner of the Mike Richter Award for the honor of most outstanding collegiate goaltender.
Metcalf figures to be a key cog in net for Madison in 2015-16 on a team that could return more than a dozen players from the year before. After splitting time with Darren Smith in a platoon-like role a season ago, the newest Ducks’ prospect hopes that more minutes will bolster his development at a faster pace.
“I think this is a big year for me; in the last 3-4 years, I haven’t been a set starter,” Metcalf said. “I need to learn how to be a starter and take over the role and lead the boys in the right direction.”
Thanks to being a part of an expansion franchise, Metcalf believes the large throng of returning players will provide an instant boost in the Capitols’ locker room.
“It’s good to have a veteran team coming back with guys that know how to deal with certain situations better than they did last year,” said Metcalf. “With a squad that has more experience, we’ll definitely be able to guide (new players) along, and I think they’ll be able to jump on the train a lot easier.”
Perhaps the most hidden, yet telling secret to Metcalf’s steady upward progression has been working with goaltending coach Shane Clifford. Some of Clifford’s past protégés include Stanley Cup champion Marc-Andre Fleury and current Ducks prospect John Gibson. In a position as scarce and demanding as the goal crease, Clifford’s influence has been rewarding for the Capitol netminder.
“(Shane) understands that it’s a process. When he pushes me to get better and succeed, he doesn’t push the process; he doesn’t try to rush me to college, or he doesn’t try to rush me into something he doesn’t think I’m ready for,” Metcalf says. “He’s a great supporter and I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Metcalf and his Capitols’ comrades will march back into Madison come August, and the goalie has a crystal-clear vision of his goals prior to next summer.
“Hopefully, (next July) I’ll be in an airport going back to the Ducks camp. I’ll be focused on going to school, but most of all, we would have had a great year in Madison, made playoffs, if not won the Clark Cup,” said Metcalf of his progressing ambitions. “I guess (school and the NHL) are things I can look forward to in the future, but if we’re talking right now, I’m looking forward to having a good camp and getting back into Madison with the boys.”
Madison Capitols 2015-16 season tickets and 12-game packages for next season are available now by visiting www.MadCapsHockey.com. Packages can also be purchased by calling (608) 257-CAPS (2277).