Photo courtesy Allen Douglas/Kamloops Blazers
Backing up an elite goalie at the WHL level has both its good and bad sides. On the good side, you get to learn from someone and compete with the best; improving yourself. On the bad side, you do not get a lot of exposure as your team sticks with the starter for a playoff run. Kamloops Blazers’ goalie Dylan Ferguson has gotten to experience both sides in his time with the organization. Ferguson is a guy who likes to be looked at to win games, but in his first year with the Blazers he did not see the ice very much. He was not expected to even get the 16 games played he got as he entered the season behind two 18-year-olds in Connor Ingram and Cole Kehler. Ultimately Ingram won the starting job, en route to a second-team-all-star nomination in the Western Conference. Ferguson meanwhile, fought hard to win the backup job as a rookie.
“Yeah I was really confident, I had to control what I could do, right? I came in there, played as hard as I could and earned the opportunity to play behind Connor. I didn’t get into a lot of games last year, but just tried to make the best of them and have been working hard. It has been working out.”
Ferguson, who has a late 1998 birthdate and not eligible to be drafted to the NHL until this June, actually did not even sign with Kamloops until May of 2015 This was four months before training camp started.
“I was just trying to make the best decision for me. I did a lot of research for a long time and I didn’t want to make a choice until I knew for sure. I did have a lot of schools talk to me. I did have choices. In the end the WHL seemed like it was the best fit for me because I was ready enough to come into this league and I thought college was a route for players that are not mature with their game yet and needed time to get that maturity. Because of that, I thought the WHL was the best route for me.”
Ferguson has always taken his hockey, career path very seriously, deciding not to attend a much closer to home (Lantzville, B.C.) Bantam and Midget program for one he thought was a better fit two provinces away.
“I had a choice where I wanted to play my minor hockey between the North Shore Winter Club and Notre Dame. Notre Dame in Wilcox, Saskatchewan seemed like a good place and it really helped me get to where I am and helped me with life as well. So that’s how that happened, I made a call there and attended there for three years.”
Ferguson worked closely with the Gold in the Net program until the retirement of Perry Elderbroom. He credits Perry and the program with getting him where he is in his game.
“I don’t work with them anymore, I’m actually with Eli Wilson now. They didn’t have that many pro guys, so I decided to switch. However, Gold in the Net is the reason I got to where I am. Perry Elderbroom is the main guy there and when he retired I decided to move on. They really focused on the little things with me and worked on my weaknesses. I trained all summer with them and I could not have done it without them.”
All of the patience that Ferguson had over the 2015-16 season and the start of this year finally paid off due to the individual success of his friendly rival for the net. He put up a 0.931 save percentage and a 2.52 GAA, winning nine games over 15 straight starts while Ingram was off representing Canada at the U-20 World Junior Championships.
“I love knowing that I’m the guy. I grew up being the guy and it was different for me coming in here and backing up Connor. I adjusted to it though and made the best of it. I was pretty confident that Connor would make the World Junior team and tried to prepare everyday because I knew I was going to get a lot of games in a row there. I loved having the opportunity and I try to make the best of my opportunities.”
His hard work paid off big for him as he earned “Goalie of the Month” honours in December and put himself firmly on the NHL scouting radar.
“It’s just one of those things, it was a really big confidence booster for me. I knew I was capable. It was great to see my name up there for sure. ”
Coming into this season, Ferguson knew that NHL teams would be looking around and he had the confidence to know they would find him. His season GAA of 2.82 is eighth among WHL goalies who’ve played 30 or more games and his save percentage of 0.920 is third.
“The goal for me was to take it a day at a time. I knew it was my draft year and I knew that I had the potential to impress a lot of people. I just strove for that and kept that in the back of my mind and just waited for my opportunities.”
Getting to learn from someone that walked the NHL draft-year path the year before in Connor Ingram is something that he has taken advantage of.
“I’ve talked to him here and there about it. We don’t talk about it a lot but something he said is – you can’t look too far into it, you just have to play your game. He’s kind of been a silent motivator for me because he is so good. Our relationship is good and we drive each other every game.”
With Ingram seemingly owning the net for the Blazers’ playoff run, Ferguson has a couple things in mind to work on in the off-season to improve his game.
“For me, it’s just being in position. Beating the pass. Those are two things right now that I really need to focus on. I don’t think I have bad positioning and I think I have quick speed but there’s just some things that I could work on. Eli and I have talked about that and I’m hoping to work with him at a few pro camps. I’m just prepared to work hard this summer.”
Ingram will be an overage next season and it is assumed that he will get signed by Tampa Bay and play professionally. Ferguson is excited to once again be relied upon as “the guy” for the Blazers.
“I’m licking my chops. I’m super excited about that. Its always been in the back of my head to start games and win game for my team. My goal has always been about winning games for my team.”