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Barrie teen’s great rookie campaign has grown confidence with Steelheads coaches

By Gene Pereira, Special to Postmedia Network

Jake Ingham MARK WANZEL/FILE PHOTO

Jake Ingham MARK WANZEL/FILE PHOTO

Jake Ingham has given Mississauga Steelheads head coach James Richmond and his coaching staff a lot to think about heading into the Ontario Hockey League playoffs.

In this case, that’s a real a good thing.

It’s not often you see rookie goaltenders start between the pipes come playoff time, but the way the Barrie native has wrapped up his first regular season in the OHL it’s certainly made for a tougher decision when it comes to who gets the nod.

Still, it’s expected overager Matthew Mancina, if healthy, will get the call Friday night when the Steelheads host the Ottawa 67’s in the opening game of their OHL Eastern Conference best-of-seven quarterfinals

“I’m going to leave that to our coaches,” Steelheads general manager James Boyd said when asked about who will start in the playoffs. “It’s nice to have options. Since Dec. 1, we’ve had some quality goaltending from both Matt Mancina and Jake Ingham when called upon,” he said.

“There’s confidence from our team in both goalies and it’s become a real strength or our team,” Boyd added. “In recent weeks to lock up our division, and maybe not playing our best, it’s (goaltending) won us some hockey games. There’s lots and lots to be excited about between the pipes here.”

Ingham has certainly stated his case in impressive fashion of late.

In his last 18 games, the 16-year-old former Barrie Colts ‘AAA’ minor-midget standout has posted a 13-2-1-1-1 record and given up just 33 goals. That adds up to a sparkling 1.85 goals-against average (GAA) and .940 save percentage (SV%).

That includes recording a 1.50 GAA and .958 SV% in three wins in four days last week that helped him earn OHL player of the week.

“From the start when I signed I knew I was going to (play) with an older goalie, but I wanted to push and make it tough on the coaches,” said the second-round pick, who finished the season with a 2.69 GAA and .907 SV%. “It’s the best I can do and the best (Mancina) can do.

“If I can make him better, he makes me better. It’s a win-win situation.”

Ingham’s game has taken huge strides since the Steelheads’ 26th-overall pick in the 2016 OHL Priority Selection stepped into the crease this season. Getting into 31 games has certainly helped.

“I feel a lot more comfortable,” said Ingham, who was also the OHL’s goalie of the month in January. “I started off the year (feeling) pretty good the first game and from there it was a learning lesson. A tough one, I felt. I felt like I learned a lot coming through the first half.

“I struggled, but I felt it helped me grow as a person and as a goalie. Coming into the second half, I felt like I got some lucky bounces and that just kind of kick-started me and I kind of got back to my normal game and in the groove.”

Ingham has basically been in that groove since returning from the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Sault Ste. Marie in early November.

The six-foot-three, 181-pound goaltender led the Canada Black team to a silver medal. Ingham was outstanding in the final against Sweden, turning away 31 of 33 shots in a 2-1 loss.

“He came back with a ton of confidence and really he was in a position where we were able to start him in a number of games,” Boyd said. “He had some success and he really carried that momentum into the second half of the season, and since Dec. 30 he’s been just tremendous for us. Playing on the road, playing at home, playing against top teams.

“In all honesty, he’s farther ahead than we anticipated.”

The experience at the world under-17 tournament was a huge boost for Ingham.

“Winning a silver medal always helps with your confidence,” he said. “The hockey was fantastic and the players were great. It felt like we became a family down there.

“It was good to come back with the boys and have a good second half.”

Ingham’s composure, especially for such a young goalie, really stands out and is central to the success that has certainly put him in the conversation with Guelph Storm defenceman Ryan Merkley, Niagara IceDogs forward Akil Thomas and Oshawa Generals centre Allan McShane for OHL rookie of the year.

Boyd says Ingham’s composure shows in his day-to-day work. He approaches the game in the way a top student approaches his schooling.

“He’s very level-headed and shows maturity beyond his years,” Boyd said. “He’s very consistent. He comes to the rink, even at the start of the season when things probably weren’t going the way he had dreamed they would have gone, it’s the same smiling kid with the same diligent work ethic.

“That’s the foundation of his success and it’s part of his personality, and that’s why we’re so excited for him,” he added.

What also played a key role in Ingham’s quick maturation in the crease this season was an injury in mid-October to Mancina.

That thrust Ingham into a starting role for two weeks and allowed the young puck-stopper some valuable playing time.

Boyd says before the season the staff had talked about getting Ingham around 15 starts. That first year is often about getting comfortable with the rinks in the league and getting a feel for the level of competition.

Ingham has well surpass that number of games.

“Where a lot of guys are playing against guys outside their age bracket, guys that are two or three years older, I think Jacob has done a tremendous job in his first year acclimatizing himself to the league and you definitely see it in his comfort level in the net,” Boyd said.

“It was huge,” Ingham said of those early starts. “I got three or four starts before under-17s, so that was nice. Especially being 16 and not expected to play a lot.”

Regardless of whether he’s starting or backing up Mancina in the playoffs, Ingham knows he has to be ready.

Proving that point was last Friday’s 4-2 win at home over the Barrie Colts: Mancina got the start in goal, but was injured and had to be replaced after the first period by Ingham.

“Friday was a great example of that,” Ingham said of always having to be ready. “I had to come into that game and thankfully the boys put up four on the board, which is huge.”

Whatever role he does play these playoffs, Ingham just can’t wait to get it started.

“We’re really excited. We know what we can do here with this team,” he said of playoff chances for the Central Division champions. “I think it’s going to be a fun (playoff run).”

As for Ingham’s future, Boyd believes the rookie is definitely trending in the right direction of being one of the league’s brightest stars in goal.

“He’s farther ahead than where we would have anticipated and that’s a credit to him, and a credit to his approach, but he’s still a young goaltender and he’s still finding his way,” he said. “Definitely with the way he works on a day-to-day basis and approaches his studies, really everything about him.

“We’re very excited he’s part of the Steelheads moving forward.”

PEREIRA’S PICKS

EASTERN CONFERENCE

(1) Peterborough Petes vs. (8) Niagara IceDogs.

No early playoff exit for this deep Petes team. PETES IN 5

(2) Mississauga Steelheads vs. (7) Ottawa 67's

Steelheads' big guns shine and hold off pesky 67's. TROUT IN 6

(3) Oshawa Generals vs. (6) Sudbury Wolves

Dimitry Sokolov and Wolves will push hard, but fall just short. GENS IN 7

(4) Kingston Frontenacs vs. (5) Hamilton Bulldogs

Defence often wins and scoring on Fronts is not easy. FRONTS IN 6

WESTERN CONFERENCE

(1) Erie Otters vs. (8) Sarnia Sting

Otters will make short work of Sting knowing battles ahead. OTTERS IN 4

(2) Soo Greyhounds vs. (7) Flint Firebirds

Flint's first playoff experience will be a short one. HOUNDS IN 4

(3) Owen Sound Attack vs. (6) Kitchener Rangers

Attack were downright filthy good in second half. The Attack trains rolls on. ATTACK IN 5

(4) London Knights vs. (5) Windsor Spitfires

Hard to believe one of these teams will be out in first round. Long layoff for Memorial Cup hosts. KNIGHTS IN 6 



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