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Fucale Posts Shutout in NHL Debut

Fucale Posts Shutout in NHL Debut

DETROIT, Mich. – Goaltender Zach Fucale was stopping pucks for the Hershey Bears less than a week ago but was suddenly recalled to the Washington Capitals this week.

The first suspicion was that the recall was a precaution for former Bears backstop Vitek Vanecek, who was thought to have tweaked a shoulder during the Caps win on Monday. Suddenly, Washington head coach Peter Laviolette announced that Fucale would make his NHL debut on Thursday in Detroit against the Red Wings, making him the fourth player to skate with the Bears to make his NHL debut this season. The Caps seemed to rally around the goaltender, who made 21 saves on as many shots to make team history as the first goaltender to post a shutout in their debut. The shutout is the latest high point for Fucale, who had many question marks surrounding his signing just over a year ago.

In the late summer of 2020, while the Stanley Cup Playoffs were playing out in the bubble, the Capitals made an interesting signing by adding Fucale, who was originally a draft choice of the Montreal Canadiens in 2013 (selected 36th overall) and played for their affiliates in St. John’s and Laval before before landing with several ECHL teams as a bubble goaltender. Fucale played a handful of games with the Chicago Wolves and the Syracuse Crunch before the pandemic shut hockey down, and looked to make a fresh start with the Capitals organization. However, his signing presented a number of questions as the Capitals were then intending to start a fellow goaltending signing, Henrik Lundqvist, who was signed not too long after Fucale. With Ilya Samsonov, Vanecek, and Pheonix Copley waiting in the wings, it seemed like Fucale may have had to start in the ECHL, which he did for one game when the ECHL started in December of 2020 while the AHL season was still forthcoming.

However, fate once again stepped in as Lundqvist could not play for the Capitals, shifting the crease to Vanecek and Samsonov while subsequently making Fucale a regular in Hershey, where he quickly became a fan favorite in The Sweetest Place on Earth. A limited number of fans in attendance made Fucale’s directions to his teammates all the more distinct for fans, and his outgoing, positive personality was energizing. Fucale finished as the league’s top goaltender, posting a 1.80 goals against average and a 0.932 save percentage while going 9-2-0-0 with one shutout in 11 games played. He combined with Copley to be one of the best goaltending tandems in the league, and their success was a huge reason why the Bears won the AHL’s regular-season title.

Fast forward to this season, and only a month in, the Capitals have had injury woes plague them. Fucale, alongside Brett Leason, Aliaksei Protas, and Axel Jonsson-Fjallby have been called on to play increased roles as many lineup regulars have been on the shelf with injury. With the Capitals playing back-to-back road games, Fucale’s success gave Laviolette confidence in the team’s depth to give him the start, much as Leason has two goals and an assist in six games and utilizing those players in prominent roles. Fucale withstood a Red Wings surge early in the game, as he made 11 first-period saves of 21 total with some tough stops. Washington rose to the challenge, particularly facing their first two-man disadvantage of the season, to earn the clean sheet with Fucale for the game.

It’s been a great few games for the families of so many young players, and seeing them have success in the NHL is one of the big rewards watching players develop in the AHL. It may not be the end of the road for Fucale or his teammates in Hershey, as Washington will surely come back to full health, and cap space will need to be accounted for. Still, it keeps these young players in the minds of the Capitals’ top brass, and it’s only the beginning of a new chapter in the young careers of these players.

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