The Delta Ice Hawks’ greatest strength this season was on full display Tuesday night at Ladner Leisure Centre.
Rookie goaltender Hunter Tarves turned aside 29 shots in a 3-1 victory over the Langley Trappers. The 17-year-old remains unbeaten on the season (6-0-1) with a 1.71 goals against average and .933 save percentage. It was also his first start since posting his first junior career shutout in a 3-0 victory over Aldergrove back on Nov. 5.
So why weren’t the Hawks riding the hot hand?
Well, GM and head coach Steve Robinson is dealing with a juggling act in his goalie crease.
Veteran Jordy Engelson has also been rock solid, despite a 3-8-2 overall record. His save percentage (.930) is second in the league only to Tarves.
The Hawks also welcomed Ladner native and Vancouver Giants prospect Braedy Euerby into the fold two weeks ago. The 17-year-old made his debut in a 2-1 loss to White Rock and also was in net for last Saturday’s 4-3 loss to Mission.
Robinson made it clear to Tarves and Engelson that he was hardly in search of another goaltender. But he also wasn’t going to say no to a Western Hockey League team they happen to share the same building with, especially involving a hometown player.
“Braedy didn’t come here looking to replace anybody. We are trying to accommodate it and see where it goes for the next couple of weeks,” explained Robinson. “He is working with (Giants goalie coach) Paul Fricker and getting ice time with them as well. That’s part of the whole logic.
“This fell on our lap and we will see where the path leads us over the next 10 days or so. Chances of us carrying a goalie past Dec. 1 is slim but you never know. There has been a lot of communication with the guys to get them comfortable with the process.”
The initial plan with Tarves was the odd start to give Engelson a break from a planned heavy workload. He has been the club’s biggest surprise this season, however.
“Every time he has started other than the Richmond game he has delivered with a great game,” continued Robinson. “I told Hunter when I stand back from it now he has exceded my expectations and done a great job.”
A look at the standings is all it takes to realize why Robinson wants to get his goaltending situation resolved sooner rather than later.
The Hawks sit fourth in the Pacific Junior Hockey League’s Tom Shaw Conference with a 11-8-3-2 record but fifth place White Rock (12-9-0-1) is just a point back with two games in hand. A cross-over scenario to the Harold Brittain Conference for the post-season is also a possibility for the fifth place team but that is hardly a guarantee.
With 20 games remaining, Robinson just wants to see a level of consistency and isn’t ruling out a top three finish either.
“It’s well within our capability of fighting for second or third in the division. We just haven’t put a massive amount of wins together,” he added. “I do see things progressing. We just need more scoring and to get our power play (success rate) into the high 20s instead of high teens. I think we have few guys who can perform better.”
The Hawks return to action Tuesday when Ridge Meadows visits the LLC at 7:35 p.m.