5FW Originals: Four Goalies For Two Spots In Albany

NEWARK, N.J. — Four capable goalies. Two roster spots. That’s the dilemma facing the Albany Devils in training camp, although it’s not a particularly bad problem to have. The Trentonian caught up with each netminder at the start of camp, and asked them about their thoughts on the challenging roster situation.

ESTABLISHED

In his fourth AHL season, Jeff Frazee appeared in 36 games for the Albany Devils last year (Photo: Mike Ashmore)

Jeff Frazee’s spot would seem to the most secure. New Jersey’s second round choice in 2005, the 25-year-old is entering his sixth season in the organization, and his fifth as the scheduled starter at the AHL level. 

“You’ve got young guys who want to take your spot,” he said.  “Obviously, I would assume it’s my spot to lose, going into my fifth year pro.  I’ve just got to come in, work hard, work with the goalie coaches, be a good teammate and do what I can to help everyone out.”

Frazee has earned NHL opportunities before due to injury, but has yet to see any actual playing time.  With the lockout having already cancelled games, that won’t be changing any time soon.

“It is what it is,” Frazee said.  “They’ve got Marty and Hedberg, so I wouldn’t have started in the NHL anyway.  You just take it as it is, work hard and get ready for the season.  I’m looking forward to this year more than any other year, we’re going to be the best league in North America.”

That season is likely to unfold in Albany once again, where Frazee posted a 2.67 goals against average and .906 save percentage in 36 games while splitting time with Keith Kinkaid.

“It was good,” Frazee said of last year.  “(My numbers) were OK, I struggled at the beginning, but I was pretty consistent after that.  I felt I played consistent hockey and gave the team a chance most nights.  This year, you can take it for what it is and say you’re in the AHL (again), but it’s a better AHL and it’s a chance to show yourself.”

Frazee started his professional career with one game in Lowell at the end of the 2007-08 season, and then entered the next year as the starter at ECHL Trenton.  He played in just five games for Trenton before getting called up to the AHL for good, but did return for the postseason.  With that experience has come some development in his own game as well, saying his mental approach and adjusting to long seasons has improved with age.  But with an improved league to play in, he can only get better from here

“You can’t take days off, especially in practice,” he said.  “You can’t expect to compete in a game when you’re not playing your best.  It’s going to be fast paced and there’s going to be a lot of talent on the ice.  It’s going to be a lot of fun for the fans and for us.”

Keith Kinkaid has cemented his status in the AHL after a solid first professional season (Photo: Mike Ashmore)

Kinkaid’s spot seems rather secure as well.  Just 23 years old, the promising young goaltender left Union early to pursue his pro career after posting a 1.99 goals against average and .920 save percentage in 2010-11.  Last season was his first as a pro, and he struggled at times; putting up a 2.94 goals against average and .904 save percentage in 42 games, splitting time with Frazee.

Kinkaid likely wouldn’t have left early had an AHL spot not been made available to him.

“That was something I looked at before signing,” he said. 

“If there was an opportunity up here, I didn’t want to go down to the (ECHL) to start, because you have to work your way up either way, but it’s a better opportunity to start in the AHL.  But it’s even harder to stay here, and that’s what I’ve been working for.  I’ve matured as a person over the summer, and I’m hoping for more consistency this year.  There were ups and downs last year, and I need to play my game.  Don’t let anything affect you, just play how you need to play.”

Like Frazee, Kinkaid got a taste of the NHL last year, but he also didn’t receive any playing time.  And like…well, everyone this year, that doesn’t seem likely to change.

“There’s two jobs here, and obviously they have the two jobs up there, so (the lockout adds) more incentive to make sure I get one of these two jobs here with Albany,” Kinkaid said.

“Nothing’s given to you, you’ve got to work for it.  I think this off-season has really helped me, and all the experience I gained in my first year, I can apply to now.  Hopefully I can earn the top spot here.”

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN

Maxime Clermont played primarily for Kalamazoo in the ECHL last year, but performed well in limited AHL time.

As of now, it looks like Maxine Clermont is headed for another season in the ECHL.  The 20-year-old Montreal native spent all but two games of his first pro year with the Kalamazoo Wings, and is on the outside looking in as one of the two lesser experienced goalies among the four vying for spots in camp.

“We’ve known that was going to be situation for a while now,” said Clermont of the logjam.

“But, I think the only thing I can do is to do my part and control what I can control, which is to show them that I can play in the AHL.  I played a couple games last year and it went pretty well.  We’ll see what’s going to happen, but I’m here to make the AHL (roster).  I played one year in the ECHL last year, and I want to get a step closer to the NHL, that’s for sure.”

Clermont, who was one of the youngest players in the league last year, struggled at times with Kalamazoo, posting a 3.42 goals against average and .891 save percentage in 31 games.  But he did play in two games with Albany as well and was excellent, allowing just four goals in two starts.

“I hope (that helped), but from my point of view, I know that I can play there,” he said.  “I’ve been there for a month with practice and all that, and both games I played went well.  I know I can do the job, I’m pretty sure at some point they know too.  They’re going to have to make some decisions, but they’re going to do what’s best for everyone.  Hopefully, I’ll show enough to where I can be there all year.”

New Jersey no longer has an ECHL affiliate, so Clermont may be in limbo for a while if the Devils can’t find somewhere to send him.  However, given Albany head coach Rick Kowalsky’s connections in Trenton, there have long been rumors that Clermont could be sent there to start the year.

“The (experience with Kalamazoo) was good,” he said.

“It was my first year pro, and I had to get out of junior and get used to something different.  But I think it went well.  I noticed the style in the (ECHL) wasn’t the same as the AHL.  The (ECHL) was more open, more run and gun type of hockey.  But it was fun, you’re facing a lot of shots every night, and some high quality scoring chances as well.  It makes it exciting for the goalie as well.”

Scott Wedgewood is regarded as the Devils goalie of the future, but may have to return to juniors this season (Photo: Mike Ashmore)

Wedgewood would prefer not to admit it, but he can return to the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers as an overager if he doesn’t stick in the AHL.  Given the current situation, that may be more a matter of “when” rather than “if.”

“I could go back as an overager,” said the 19-year-old. 

“It’s not what I want to do, but it’s still on the table.  It’s an option, but I’m not really looking at that for this year.  This is going to be a competition, but it’ll be something I’m looking forward to and I’m prepared for.  I want to play in Albany and get my first chance at a pro year.”

Wedgewood has spent his last four seasons with Plymouth, the last two as the team’s regular starter.  Wedgewood played in 98 games, won 56 of them, and posted a GAA of around 3.00 and save percentage near .910 in each of his two full seasons.  He feels that experience in juniors has prepared him “really well” for a possible jump to the next level.

“I had a good coaching staff and good goalie coaches in Plymouth, as well as a great team,” he said.  “Every year I was there, we were always competitive.  Getting here is just another step on the ladder, and I think I’m ready for it.”

Wedgewood showed just how ready he was at the 2012 World Junior Championships, where he and Mark Visentin split time between the pipes representing Team Canada.

“That was one of the best experiences I’ve had,” Wedgewood said.

“A lot of people have dreams to do that, and to be a kid to go through it and work my way onto the team; I wasn’t a for sure kind of guy, to battle for a spot and then play the games that I did was something that meant a lot to me.  That experience has helped me gain more mental composure and mental strength for the upcoming years and to prepare me for the next level.”

Given all the hype and attention surrounding the WJC, Wedgewood is already prepared for that element of it when he gets a chance in the National Hockey League, as many expect he eventually will.

“It was more than a bit,” joked Wedgewood about the level of attention.

“It’s something that you have to go through to know how to cope with it after.  You can’t prepare yourself for that, and after going through it, it’s definitely changed the way I look at the game.  One way that it’s helped me, is it’s made me more mentally tough.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

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4 Responses to “5FW Originals: Four Goalies For Two Spots In Albany”

  1. Rich Hutchinson Says:

    I’d be more than happy to have Clermont down in Trenton if he can get it done.

  2. 5forwriting Says:

    As of now, that’s how I think it’s going to play out…and I’d take that too. Seems like a good kid.

  3. Brian Says:

    Great article, thanks for posting! I agree that the Albany spots are Frazee’s and Kinkaid’s to lose but I think its possible that Wedgewood will give them strong competition. I think its more likely that Wedgewood starts out in the ECHL and is the first call up to the AHL if an injury occurs.

    While he is eligible to go back to junior I have doubts about it happening. Plymouth is owned by Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos Jr. The starting goalie for Plymouth, Matt Mahalak, is a Hurricanes draft pick and is finally getting a chance to start after backing up Wedgewood for 2 years. Perhaps I am going way off on a tangent here but it seems like they’d rather have Mahalak developing there, especially since he is 19 going on 20 in January.

  4. 5forwriting Says:

    Brian, I appreciate the comment, thanks. I think it all depends on what they want to do with Frazee…it seems pretty clear to me that he’s never really going to be an NHL guy for them, so I wonder if they’d send him to the ECHL to get some playing time and also let guys like Kinkaid, Clermont and Wedgewood develop.

    I think Clermont is kind of on the fringe of their plans, so it would be about developing Wedgewood and Kinkaid. That’s a real good point with Plymouth…I wonder if they could trade Wedgewood if he did go back to juniors, that’s an option as well. They could get a lot for him, and teams would be thrilled to take him.

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