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Third-year Barrie Colts goaltender looking to rebound from tough 2012-13 season

By Gene Pereira, Special to Postmedia Network

The Barrie Colts have traded goalie Alex Fotinos to the Windsor Spitfires for a seventh-round pick in 2015. MARK WANZEL PHOTO

The Barrie Colts have traded goalie Alex Fotinos to the Windsor Spitfires for a seventh-round pick in 2015. MARK WANZEL PHOTO

After two years of playing second fiddle to Mathias Niederberger in the Barrie Colts crease, opportunity is clearly knocking for Alex Fotinos at this year’s training camp.

With the German import having moved on to the professional level, the starting role is open and the truth is the Colts would love nothing more than to see their third-year goaltender grab it.

Fotinos showed flashes of brilliance during his rookie season two years ago when he filled in for an injured Niederberger just after Christmas and an excited Colts brass believed they had their goaltender of the future.

Yet those expectations were somewhat tempered last season when Fotinos, the team’s 2011 second-round pick, got into just 19 games last season playing behind Niederberger. He had his share of struggles, posting a .897 save percentage.

“It was a tough year for Alex last year, for sure. It was his (NHL) draft year and the eagerness (was there) to have a lot of starts, especially after the fine rookie season he had,” said Colts goaltending coach and newly named assistant coach Mike Rosati. “The reality was that Berger was so good last year.

“It was tough to find opportunities to give Alex a chance.”

One thing was certain, the Colts weren’t about to just hand Fotinos the No. 1 role this season. That was made even clearer when the club selected Slovakian goaltender Daniel Gibl in this year’s Canadian Hockey League Import Draft.

Add in other top prospects such as Mackenzie Blackwood and 2013 seventh-round selection Kevin Labelle and the Colts find themselves with a fairly healthy competitive battle between the pipes.

All this, says Rosati, wasn’t lost on Fotinos.

“He and I talked this summer and I think his mindset coming into this camp was, OK, this is my chance and I want that net,” Rosati said. “I wanted the net last year and (Niederberger) owned it, and now it’s my net to own.

“Anybody else that wants to take the crease away from me better be ready for a battle for it.”

Fotinos is confident that being pushed by the likes of Gibl and Blackwood will only help him.

“No spot is secure,” the 18-year-old Toronto native said after a morning scrimmage. “Every goalie here is fighting for that starting role. Nobody wants to be a backup. Blackwood is younger than me and has less experience in the league and same with Daniel, but both goalies are very talented and both want that starting job.

“Right now, I’m just trying as hard as they are to keep my spot,” Fotinos added.

Fotinos says he has worked hard over the summer ensuring he’d be in top shape coming into camp and show the club that he can handle the big work load expected of a starting goaltender.

Working with a trainer, Fotinos focused on his stamina. He wants his teammates to feel the same confidence in him that they had with Niederberger in goal, especially come playoff time. 

Both Gibl and Blackwood were sharp on the opening day of scrimmages and Fotinos knows he’s going to have to set himself apart from them. 

“It’s the nature of the position,” he said of the competition. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re a third-year guy or a first-year guy, at the end of the day whoever stops the most pucks, whoever is better on the ice, is going to get the most games.

“As for myself, I can only focus on what I can do and not worry about anyone else,” he added. “I just have to do the best I can to be that starting goalie.”

That Fotinos has the edge on the starting job shouldn’t be a surprise says Dale Hawerchuk, but neither should the fact that the Colts head coach wasn’t willing to just hand him the job.

Competition gets tougher with every step up you take in this game and it’s something that Fotinos should have experienced firsthand when he attended the Los Angeles Kings’ development camp earlier this summer.

“They’ve got maybe one of the best in the business in Jonathan Quick, but behind him are a lot of guys that are really good and that competition’ve got to get used to it,” Hawerchuk said. “You’ve got to relish it a little bit.

“It’ll make you play better.”

After the disappointment of being passed over in June’s NHL Entry Draft, getting a taste of that next level at the Kings camp was a great motivator for Fotinos coming into camp here.

“It was a great learning experience,” he said of the Kings camp. “I saw what it would take to get to the next level and see how they live. L.A. is a beautiful city and just how they (the Kings organization) treat their players, you want it. You want it so badly.

“It’s a great goal for you to set all year and the rest of my career I’m going to be striving to get there,” Fotinos added.

The Colts had seven goalies coming into this year’s camp, but most eyes were on Gibl at the beginning of the on-ice sessions at the Barrie Molson Centre on Tuesday.

Barrie hit it big on the import goalie front with Niederberger. And while it’s not fair to put those same expectations on Gibl, the young Slovakian puck-stopper hasn’t disappointed early on.

He even showed some of those Niederberger-like quick reflexes in the early scrimmages.

“He’s got those quick, strong legs and a powerful bottom half, which is a huge advantage,” Rosati said. “We saw that with (Niederberger) here the last couple of years.

“I’m sure there’ll be an adjustment period he’ll have to go through at some point,” he added. “Just like Berger had to go through his first year here with the North American game, the traffic and shorter end boards, and things like that.

“First look, I love the power he has. His east-west mobility is solid. He battles and competes for his sight lines and those are huge qualities to have when you’re in that position for sure.”

Blackwood didn’t give up any ground in the crease battle, either, early on, despite admitting he’s been nervous.

“You try to be as calm as you can, but sometimes you can’t help it with a big, crucial camp like this for me,” said the 2012 fifth-round selection. 

Blackwood says he learned a lot from Niederberger while practising with the club at the end of last season during their run to the OHL final.

Having a six-foot-four, 204-pound frame paired with fairly quick reflexes make him an intriguing prospect and should make the Colts’ decision in the crease all that much tougher.

“(Blackwood) is hungry and he and I worked quite a bit this summer,” Rosati said. “Coming into camp, he’s got the size and his speed is there as well. It’s not often you get that combination of size and speed and he’s got those qualities.

“He’s still young. He has to add some poise to his game, but I think once all those elements come together he’ll be a solid keeper in this league for sure.”

Blackwood knows a goaltending job is within his reach and, like Fotinos, he doesn’t want to let the opportunity go without showing his best.

“You’ve just got to go out there and do whatever you can and lay it all on the line,” Blackwood said.

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