Kenai River Brown Bears goalie Zach Quinn is 2-0 this season in shootouts, allowing just two scores in 10 rounds of high-stakes dueling.
Considering how Quinn made the Bears roster, his affinity for coming through in the last chance for victory that is the shootout is no surprise.
Quinn, listed as a 6-foot-2, 175-pounder out of Westland, Mich., played last season for the high-powered Compuware Midget program out of Michigan.
Having aged out of Midget hockey, the next step for Quinn, 19, was junior hockey.
He set his sights on the Tier II North American Hockey League. Unlike some junior leagues, NAHL players don’t have to pay to play.
“Playing in the NA is huge for me because I didn’t want to have my parents pay for me,” said Quinn of parents, Lisa and Shane Quinn.
Despite playing with a top Midget program, Quinn’s Midget stats meant he didn’t get drafted or tendered by an NAHL squad.
Quinn was 9-6 for Compuware with a 3.06 goals-against average and an .864 save percentage.
“Sometimes coaches, and I’m guilty of this myself, get caught looking too much at stats,” Brown Bears coach Geoff Beauparlant said. “Stopping only 85 of 100 shots is not the confidence you want from your goaltender in the back.
“That’s something you tend to shy away from as a coach.”
Quinn said he didn’t pay much attention to his stats at Compuware, but he did say he didn’t think they were entirely accurate.
Brown Bears forward Jack Gessert, the captain for Compuware last season, said Quinn made strides last season.
“He emerged as the No. 1 goalie as the season progressed,” Gessert said.
But that didn’t change the fact that if Quinn was going to make an NAHL team, he would have to take the difficult road of riding into camp as a free agent and turning enough heads to make a roster.
Quinn went to tryout camps for the Austin (Minn.) Bruins, the Corpus Christi (Texas) IceRays and the Minnesota Wilderness and failed to crack the roster.
That left the Brown Bears as his last chance.
He would have to beat out returning goalie Evan McCarthy or hot young prospect Kris Oldham to make the team.
“He was a complete unknown coming into camp,” Beauparlant said.
During the round-robin portion of the camp, Beauparlant said Quinn was solid, but he was also on one of the better round-robin squads.
So the coach turned up the heat in the all-star games by making Quinn face a team featuring NAHL leading scorer Alec Butcher and Alex Jackstadt, who went on to make the Tier I United States Hockey League.
“I wanted to see how he would handle himself going against the top players on our hockey club,” Beauparlant said. “He was basically flawless.”
Now Beauparlant and the coaching staff faced a tough decision. Believe the stats, or believe the eyes?
“It’s always hard to select a player that doesn’t have experience over a player that has experience,” Beauparlant said. “I was always taught that, when all things are equal, take the veteran guy with experience.”
Ultimately, Beauparlant, a former goalie himself, sided with neither the stats nor the eyes. He selected Quinn and Oldham, and let McCarthy go.
“As a former goaltender, I have to go with my gut a little bit,” Beauparlant said. “Zach reminds me of a couple goaltenders I’ve coached at this level who have had success and now are playing Division I hockey.”
So far, Beauparlant’s instincts have been proven correct. Quinn is 4-2 with a 2.40 goals-against average and .909 save percentage. He even was named Midwest Star of the Week by the NAHL after being the only goalie to post a 4-0 record at the NAHL Showcase in mid-September.
Quinn said he has landed in a great situation, with a former goalie as head coach, as well as a goalie coach in Scott Johnson. Quinn even said assistant Steve Murphy has helped him by feeding him shots.
The biggest hiccup was a 5-1 loss to the Fairbanks Ice Dogs in the season opener where Quinn yielded five goals on 36 shots. But defensive breakdowns gave an experienced Ice Dogs squad numerous Grade A chances during the game.
“Coach Geoff has been great for my confidence,” Quinn said. “After the Fairbanks game, he told me there wasn’t much more I could have done. That helped me out a lot.”
Gessert has noticed the different attitude.
“He’s been playing well,” Gessert said. “His confidence is already better this year than it was last year.”
Quinn also said he’s enjoying living in Alaska.
“I’ve always wanted to live in Alaska,” Quinn said. “It’s something my brother and I always talked about.
“When I made the team, I don’t know … I was speechless.”
Quinn said he has been busy thus far, but he said his host mother, Heidi Metteer, has made reference to doing some hunting and fishing at some point.
The fish and game better hope Quinn isn’t as adept with his last cast or shot as he has been with his last chance at being an NAHL goalie.
“He’s very intelligent about the game,” Beauparlant said. “He sees the game well, and he reads opponents pretty darn well.
“He’s a great story, in my opinion. Hopefully, he continues on this path.”