(Sault Ste. Marie, ON) –Fragile. Handle with care. You’ve seen that written on the front of packages when what’s inside is breakable.
But those words also apply to young goaltenders whose confidence can be easily shattered.
The last thing an OHL netminder wants to do is let a bad game rent space in his head.
And that’s especially true for rookies.
But so far, that hasn’t been a problem for Greyhounds first-year puck-stopper Joseph Raaymakers.
It’s all part of the deliberate way in which the Chatham, Ont., native approaches playing hockey’s most-stressful position.
Talk to Raaymakers for a few minutes and you quickly forget he’s just 16-years-old.
Taken in the second round of the 2014 OHL draft, the six-foot-one, 180-pounder prepares himself to play like a goalie far beyond his age.
He comes to the rink early, and leaves late.
He works hard and is totally committed to doing whatever he can to improve.
“Before games I control my breathing and relax,” Raaymakers said. “Last year, I could get away with being hyped up before a game. But this is one of the best development leagues in the world.”
Debuts, of course, can sometimes be misleading.
Raaymakers has only played in 12 OHL games. But it sure looks as if the Hounds have found themselves a kid with a very bright future.
Talent – something Raaymakers appears to have an abundance of — is one thing.
But total dedication and the willingness to do whatever it takes is often the difference between the good and the great.
Asked about Raaymakers and his mature, businesslike approach, head coach Sheldon Keefe said: “He gets after it every day, puts the work in, never cuts corners and never questions anything.”
When it comes to Raaymakers, it didn’t take Sault fans long to roll out the welcome mat.
He looked good at training camp and, in his first OHL start, stymied the London Knights 5-0 here for an Oct. 12 shutout.
He also stung the Knights again, in front of family and friends at Budweiser Gardens, posting his second shutout on Dec. 5.
The Hounds were 4-0 winners that night.
For the season, Raaymakers sports an impressive goals against average of 2.44, to go along with a saves percentage of .918.
Have their been down times?
He allowed five goals on just 19 shots in an 8-5 win in Windsor on Dec. 4.
Three days later, he lasted just 10:35, giving up three quick goals in Sarnia.
The Soo went on to lose that game 7-6 in a shootout.
Now, you’d be crazy not to expect highs and lows from a goalie one year out of minor midget.
But Raaymakers rebounded after both games.
He blanked London 24 hours after the Spitfires game.
And seven days after struggling in Sarnia, he came on in relief of starter Brandon Halverson and permitted just a single goal – on a penalty shot – in over 52 minutes against Windsor.
After trailing 3-1 last Sunday, the Greyhounds rebounded to win 6-4 at Essar Centre.
“I feel a lot of responsibility to my teammates,” Raaymakers said. “You have to prepare for every game as if you’re going to play. The biggest thing is to learn as much as you can every day.”
“He never makes excuses,” Keefe added. “We saw some of the way he is in the summer. It’s really exceptional.”
Raaymakers credits Hounds goaltending consultant Jon Elkin for helping him in numerous ways.
Elkin has stressed the importance of staying relaxed and patient.
“He tells me to just let the puck come to me,” Raaymakers said.
And so far, it’s working beautifully.
(excerpted from Peter Ruicci of the Sault Star)