It has been quite a difference in goalie play for the Hearst Lumberjacks from the 2017-2018 season to the 2018-2019 campaign.
In 2017-2018, the Lumberjacks finished fifth out of six teams in the East Division of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League. And it was sub-par play from their goalies that was widely seen as the main reason that Hearst finished with a record of 23-30-3 and had a team goals against average of 3.91.
Hearst went through seven goalies during the 2017-2018 campaign as Lumberjacks coach and general manager Marc Lafleur tried in vain to find the right combination between the pipes.
Fast forward to the 2018-2019 season and heading into play this week, the Lumberjacks have a solid record of 18-12-5 and are 7-0-2 in their last nine outings to move into fourth place in the NOJHL East — and within range of top spot.
And it is the play of off-season goalie recruits Nic Tallarico and Tomi Gagnon that has increased the net worth in Hearst.
“Goaltending is our team’s strongest asset,” Lafleur told Hockey News North.
To be sure, Tallarico has a 12-8-3 record to go with a 2.75 goals against average and .916 save percentage. And Gagnon, who has a 2000 birth date and is two years younger than Tallarico, has a 6-4-2 record to go with a 3.34 goals against average and .891 save percentage.
Lafleur, as the hard-driven, demanding coach/GM in Hearst, is full of praise for both of his goalies.
“Terrific, consistent play throughout the season so far,” Lafleur said of Tallarico. “Nic has been a major contributor in many of our victories and has as much of an impact in the dressing room and off the ice as on the ice. He approaches the game like a pro. Whichever (National Collegiate Athletic Association) team that he commits to (for next season) will hit the jackpot.”
As for Gagnon, who is the Lumberjacks reliable backup goalie to Tallarico, Lafleur likes what he has.
“Tomi has been improving as the year progresses,” Lafleur said of Gagnon. “He stole a few games for us and his upside is tremendous. He will have a solid junior career and beyond.”
Lafleur added that Tallarico and Gagnon “have fed off of each other with their competitiveness in practices and that has translated to their solid performances in games.”