It has been a while since the Prince George Cougars had a situation similar to the one heating up in the crease this pre-season.
Two goaltenders remain in the hunt for a single spot without a clear winner thus far, to back up Taylor Gauthier presuming the team would not choose to carry three goalies.
19-year-old returnee Isaiah DiLaura, and highly-touted up and comer Tyler Brennan will be battling it out throughout the pre-season to decide who sticks around.
DiLaura was drafted by the Cougars in the eighth round of the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft, one of those picks that traditionally rarely crack the everyday roster.
On the other hand, Tyler Brennan is the opposite. A first-round selection, 21st overall in the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft.
Through three preseason games, the Cougars record sits at 0-3-0-0, with the team allowing 19 goals against in that span.
DiLaura has allowed 12 goals in his two games of action, meanwhile, Brennan has only allowed seven goals against but has also only played in one contest.
By the numbers, there’s no clear favourite and there isn’t one in the eyes of Cougars general manager and head coach Mark Lamb neither.
“I think they’ve all proved they can play at this level, it’s a real bright spot for our organization to have this internal fight going on.”
Lamb did assure though a decision would be made eventually, likely ahead of the team’s season opener to move the team to a two goaltender tandem.
Despite speculation that a three goalie rotation could be a possibility, Lamb was quick to point to his past saying it’s a situation that has never worked and one that he doesn’t plan on trying out once again.
Speaking of the past, DiLaura who hails from Minnesota suited up in high school hockey with good numbers before coming to Prince George.
While the Cougars were busy winning their first division banner in 2017, DiLaura was backstopping his Lakeville South High team posting a .914 save percentage with a 1.89 goals-against average in 22 games.
Seemingly a proven starter at the USHS level, the 19-year-old has yet to be able to translate similar stats to Major Junior.
DiLaura responded that a portion of his lack of success last season was due to playing time, something he says killed his confidence.
“It’s a business, you just have to keep on working hard and don’t let it get the best of you to show the coaches and management you want to be here”
The Lakeville-native claims he’s ready to be a starter in the league, or at the very least thinks he deserves more playing time than previously allowed.
More playing time would ultimately most likely have to come at the expense of Taylor Gauthier.
How does he plan to accomplish that you may ask?
Simply by staying hot.
Assuming Taylor Gauthier doesn’t return to the team until the home opener, there is a significant amount of time for DiLaura to prove his worth.
DiLaura has been sharing the load with Gauthier since his debut in September 2017, only taking the crease for 36 combined games between his two seasons.
The other man in this battle Tyler Brennan offers a bit of a different look.
Another highly regarded prospect in the eyes of Hockey Canada as he received an invite to the U-17 summer camp in Calgary.
Brennan says it’s camps like this that may give him a slight edge over DiLaura even if he fails to outplay him in the preseason. Overall, Brennan said the camp was big for his confidence and taught him a lot that he thinks he can bring to the table this season if he gets the chance.
“I think I have what it takes to have a spot on the roster, but you always have to work for it” added Brennan. “Making every minute count out there and finding any way to contribute to the team is big”
Brennan emphasizing that with only limited playing time available in the pre-season the minutes mean that much more than ever before.
The biggest adjustment thus far has been the speed of the players, but also the shot release which Brennan says can easily become a big issue without the proper adjustment.
For Cougars fans wondering what kind of style the 6’3, 180-pound product plays he said it’s much calmer and relaxed than that of current starter Taylor Gauthier.
“I like to use my size while also staying relaxed to get my job done which is stopping the puck,” Brennan said.
Historically, the Cougars have chosen the younger option in this given situation more often than not.
With a new man at the helm now, anything is possible.
Over his time in Swift Current from 2009-16, Mark Lamb was more often than not using younger goalies.
The Cougars still have two preseason games remaining both of which will be played in Dawson Creek, BC against the Edmonton Oil Kings.