Most kids growing up in Canada hope to one day pull on the jersey of their favourite team and score a big goal in a game seven, or make that game saving save with seconds left on the clock.
For a lot of those kids, they get to live that dream through the popular EA Sports NHL series, yet, only a few get to see themselves in the game like Reece Proulx has.
“It’s pretty cool,” Proulx said. “I’ve been growing up playing those games.”
One of the game modes includes “trading” hockey card and is called Hockey Ultimate Team. Through that game mode, you can have Wayne Gretzky centring Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, basically the ultimate fantasy team. Proulx has a card in that mode as well.
“I see my buddies pull me and it’s pretty cool, but I think I am one of the worst cards in the game to be fair. It’s still cool when I saw myself on there playing in ultimate team,” he said with a laugh.
“I have myself actually, just backing up, not the starter. It’s probably for the best,” Proulx added.
But that’s not all Proulx is known for, and you didn’t click on this article to read about a hockey video game. Proulx himself is an accomplished goalie who was drafted by the North Bay Battalion in the 11th round, 209th over by the Troops in 2018, and if we ever get a season, looks to have the inside track to try and steal some starts from incumbent Joe Vrbetic.
“I know I am going to get my chances and I need to capitalize on those and just try and earn a spot right there with him and battle beside him,” said Proulx. “I think we can have a good tandem going.”
“He was able to get a little taste of it,” said Battalion general manager Adam Dennis. “Unfortunately, we didn’t give him a lot of support in the one game he came up for, but I think nonetheless he got a bit of the OHL experience. He had a phenomenal year last year with Pembroke, and we tracked him quite a bit and that started with his draft year.
“He was a star for the North Bay Trappers, played some really good hockey in Midget as well. Not many people really know this but it was he and Devon Levi going head-to-head in that loop and we all know Levi after Christmas but Reece Proulx is a good goalie in his own right. He’s not coming in as a 16-17-year-old, he’ll be 18-years-old and I think he will be ready to step in.”
“It was awesome, we had a great group of guys,” Proulx said on his year with the Lumber Kings in the CCHL. “I think, personally for myself, I had a pretty good year.
“Pembroke was a great place to play. I didn’t know much about it at first but they pack the rink every night and we had a good team so it’s fun because other teams might not get as many fans.”
In 52 games with Pembroke, Proulx posted a 26-24-1 record with a .920 save percentage and 2.94 goals against average.
Proulx was also one of the back bones of one of the stronger North Bay Trappers teams in recent memory, forming a formidable tandem with Sarnia Sting goaltender Ben Gaudreau.
“Our Midget team was pretty unreal,” he said. “I only lost the last game of the season which was crazy. It was a good development before junior. It’s a shame we didn’t win the Telus Cup, but that experience with those guys was really fun and unlike any other.”
When it comes to recent drafted goaltenders for the Battalion, the plan has been to give them a season in a lower level than the OHL so they can develop as opposed to sitting on the bench. We saw that with Vrbetic, who spent his first year after his OHL draft with the NOJHL’s Powassan Voodoos. According to Dennis, the plan was the same with Proulx.
“On any given night, 50 per cent of the goalies aren’t going to be playing and there will be a lot more goalies that aren’t even dressed in the building wishing that they could sit on the bench for that game so it’s a tough position,” explained Dennis. “We have a lot of goalies on our staff. Myself, Charlie Abbott, Mike Griffin, so we feel like we have a firm grasp on the position.
“One of our philosophies, and you saw this with Big Joe, is we feel it is really important to get that experience playing against older players. For Reece, nothing against the midget level, but when you can play in junior and get those 20-year-old shots, you’re seeing the puck come at you at a different speed. You’re seeing some other things like your special teams and systems are a little more organized so your chances come from a more regular point of view.
“Just getting that experience, being able to lead a team, play back-to-back nights, lead a team into a playoffs, playing in overtimes, being leaned upon. Those are experiences that I think you need to have as a goalie and there are only two spots in the OHL but he has earned his.”
For Dennis, the former Memorial Cup champion netminder, the position comes down to confidence.
“You have to have some internal belief and confidence,” he explained. “You get confidence from your experiences and the things that you’ve done because you can always pull back on them. For a goalie, when you’re able to go in to a tough building, play a big game, make 31 of 32 saves, that’s something you did. That’s something that will stick with you, that’s something you can pull upon when you’re down. It’s amazing what a good mental game can do and that’s what we try is to put our goalies in positions where they can grow confidence.
“It’s not a perfect science, it’s a very tough position. In junior hockey, you’re in different phases. Sometimes you’re younger, sometimes you’re rebuilding, sometimes you’re trying to figure things out. For our goalies it hasn’t been an easy task for them because we have been rebuilding and growing and it hasn’t been exactly where we want to be.
“Speaking of Reece, his one-game was the third game in three nights going into Sault Ste Marie, so a tough game for any goalie and we were short-staffed. He let in 10 goals, but to watch the game it wasn’t a bad game like that. He made a ton of great saves and he was able to get a ton of experience and it was something where the final score won’t show up as you want but he can go in to next season and say ‘I’ve been out there, I’ve made some 10 bell saves against some NHL draft picks, I can stop them, I’ve been through it.’”
That game against the Greyhounds came on October 20, 2019. When looking at the box score, you notice that the Troops were only down 2-1 after 20 minutes, and 5-1 after 40. The score began to get out of hand in the third when the Battalion started to run into some penalty trouble.
“It was not what I intended for my first start,” the young netminder explained. “It was fun, and cool to play with the guys. Not the outcome we wanted, but there were a lot of factors that went into it and you can’t control it, but it was cool.”
“After the game you went up to him and there’s a lot of things you have prepped to say but he had a big smile on his face and he was excited to have the opportunity to play in the OHL,” echoed Dennis. “I know it wasn’t the score he wanted or the result that any of us wanted but I thought it was really important on him as a person to take it as it’s one game and you get a lot out of it and you grow from it.
“From a coaching perspective, video is a huge part of it. For me, there was a lot to take. He made a lot of saves so it’s focusing on those. From a goals against stand point, you look at it like a math test. We didn’t do so well on this problem, this one, or this one. Or maybe we look at a few and say ‘hey man, you’re going to have to make a 10 bell save to stop this one.’”
“I remember there was a save in the first where I slid across and made a big save,” Proulx added. “It felt like I should belong here. I remember making a few good saves. It was cool putting on the sweater being from North Bay.”
As for finding out the Troops were going to draft him in 2018, Proulx says it was a very exciting day.
“It was super cool,” he said. “I was with my family and seeing my name pop up was surreal really. Then getting called up and signing with the Battalion was a great experience.”
However, in recent memory some of the local kids haven’t exactly panned out for North Bay. But when it comes to Proulx, Adam says it’s not a narrative to be worried about.
“I think if we start talking about all that, we’re already overcomplicating the position for him,” Dennis explained. “I think when it comes to goalies, it’s already complicated enough and you want to dumb it down to ‘stop the puck.’ It really does become that simple when you focus on it. When you’re in the net and you have 60 minutes to do your job, and you’re worried that you might get made fun of at school the next day, you’re already in a bad place and you’re probably already in trouble at school tomorrow.
“It’s just focusing on the basics of the position. It’s easy to make it bigger than what it is, but at its simplest, get yourself in the way of the puck and if you can do that more than the guy at the other end, you’re going to be in good company. Getting to know Reece, even when he played for Mike Stockfish and the Trappers, he’s always been a kid where I bet if you put a heart rate monitor on him it doesn’t get over 100 very often.
“Good, bad, and different, he is a very even-keeled kid and not a lot bothers him and I think that’s what attracted us to him as a goalie and it’s been one of those hallmarks of his game.”
As for his style of play, the GM says Reece is a callback.
“Reece is very patient. So, when you talk about a goalie that has the ability to stand up on his feet on a shot, you’re talking about a split second. To have the wherewithal to just wait that extra half second, whether you’re going to leave your feet or not is such a huge advantage for the goalie,” said Dennis.
“We live in a game where deception from shooters is their hallmark. The best players are deceptive, they fake passes, they fake shots and everything they do is to make that goalie leave their feet because once they do, they’re now a half-second behind you. So a goalie drops, you move the puck and have much more net to look at.
Stand up goaltenders are a rare breed in today’s game because with the butterfly style, made popular by Patrick Roy in the 90’s. But for Reece, the ability to wait out the shooter plays in to his advantage, according to the former goaltender in Dennis.
“It gives him an advantage in terms of coming across the ice, taking away the upper parts of the net and it’s something shooters aren’t used to,” he explained. “I would say probably 95 per cent of goalies will drop first when they see the shots coming and then react from their knees. Vrbetic plays like that but when he is on his knees, his shoulders still touch the crossbar so it’s a bit of a stylistic advantage for Joe.
“Reece gives himself a chance to make every single save based on how he plays. He plays way bigger than he is and as far as comparables, Juuse Saros is the one guy I see stand up and make saves like that. He has a little bit of Carey Price in him with his poise though, and the way he doesn’t overplay pucks and he makes himself very economical and he maximises his size.”
“I think Adam is bang on with that,” Proulx said in agreement. “I’m not really the biggest guy and neither is Saros. I try to be calm in the net and efficient with my movement.”
“I watch guys like Price, Carter Hart, Saros, Marc-Andre Fleury, those guys make it look so easy and I try to do it as well.”
If Proulx can prove to be anything like those names mentioned, the Seventh Man is in for a wild ride.