It won’t be an accident if Stockton Thunder fans have a tough time determining who their team’s No. 1 goalie is this season.
Considering that the Thunder’s goaltending tandem consists of a pair of highly-regarded rookies on the radar of the team’s National Hockey League affiliates, it’s no stretch to say the position is a two-man job.
In fact, Stockton’s affiliation agreements with the Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks mandate that ice time basically be divided equally between their respective prospects as long as neither performs so poorly that he no longer deserves to play.
It’s almost as if the Thunder has been dealt a pair of aces in Oilers prospect Olivier Roy, who began the season on Stockton’s roster, and Thomas Heemskerk, who was assigned to Stockton from the Worcester Sharks of the American Hockey League by San Jose last week. Each goalie is expected to get a start this weekend, when the Thunder visits the Ontario Reign on Friday night (Oct. 28) before returning home for a Saturday night game against the Idaho Steelheads at Stockton Arena.
The idea of splitting time is something Roy and Heemskerk will have to get used to after becoming accustomed to heavy workloads during their careers in junior hockey.
“It’s going to be a little different,” Heemskerk said of sharing the No. 1 job. “It probably isn’t ideal for either one of us, but we have to make it work.”
Roy played in Stockton’s first three games of the season and Heemskerk made his pro debut last Saturday (Oct. 22), when he was a 5-4 winner against the Colorado Eagles. So far, each has made a positive impression on Thunder Coach Matt Thomas, who said he has noticed a lot of similarities between the two.
“They’re both young, hard-working goalies,” Thomas said. “They both have very good athleticism. So far, they haven’t shown me any real weaknesses.”
Roy and Heemskerk certainly didn’t show many weaknesses in juniors. Roy, a fifth-round draft pick by Edmonton in 2009, compiled a record of 123-57-8 with 14 shutouts and a goals-against average of 2.77 in 200 career games in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and was on the Team Canada roster at the 2011 World Junior Championships. Heemskerk, signed to an entry-level contract by San Jose as an undrafted free agent in 2009, was 91-58-19 with nine shutouts and a 2.81 GAA in 179 games in the Western Hockey League and led the WHL in save percentage (.927) while playing for the Everett Silvertips during the 2009-’10 season.
“No matter who’s in the net, we have a good chance to win,” Roy said. “We have a good team all around. We have everything we need to win games.”
Even so, Roy’s first ECHL victory has been elusive so far, partly because the Thunder hasn’t offered him much help offensively. By scoring five times for Heemskerk, the Thunder matched in his one start the total number of goals the team has produced in three games for Roy, who is 0-2-1.
“He kept us in a couple of games,” Thomas said of Roy. “We just haven’t given him enough support.”
Not surprisingly, both Heemskerk and Roy said the most noticeable difference between the pro game and the competition at the juniors level is the physical maturity of the players, which translates to more size, speed and strength in addition to a greater skill level.
“The guys here are bigger, faster and stronger,” Roy said. “They work hard to get their bodies in front of the net, and when they get there, it’s harder to move them.”
Ironically, Heemskerk said that when he was a child, his favorite goalie was NHL Hall-of-Famer Patrick Roy, who won the Stanley Cup with both the Montreal Canadiens and Colorado Avalanche. Heemskerk said he now tries to model his game after Carey Price (Montreal), Marc-Andre Fleury (Pittsburgh Penguins) and Cam Ward (Carolina Hurricanes).
“I think I play similar to them in certain ways,” Heemskerk said. “Fleury is fast and agile, and Price is calm and smooth. It works for them, and I try to do the same.”
Roy, who is not related to Patrick Roy, said he enjoys watching Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings.
“He’s fast and he challenges a lot,” Roy said. “His game is more reflex. That’s how I play. I have to challenge and read the game.”