Dylan Garand, like most players that comprise the CHL, has had an unwelcome headstart to the offseason. Now back home in Victoria B.C, the 17-year-old shared a few minutes to discuss his first WHL season as a starter and what lies ahead.
One could argue that Garand stated his case as a true #1 late in the 2018-2019 season. An injury to 20-year old Dylan Ferguson on March 6, 2019, placed Garand behind a Blazers squad essentially removed from the postseason discussion. Garand went 5-0-1-0 down the home stretch, compiling a .942 save percentage and a 1.61 goals-against average in those six games. After carrying the Blazers into a winner-take-all tiebreaker, Garand stopped all but one of 29 shots in a 5-1 win over the Kelowna Rockets, propelling Kamloops into the postseason.
If there were any questions regarding the 17-year old’s ability to shoulder a full-time workload, they’ve since been answered. What will be the question for Blazers fans now is ‘How far could this team have gone?’ Garand saw the potential.
“As a team aspect, I think having the team that we had this year was something that I believe we really had a chance of winning the whole thing.”
The Blazers clinched the division title with plenty of games remaining, but the road to the top was not necessarily an easy one. Regardless of the acuity, Garand views the team’s growing pains as a vital step in the process of building a contender.
“It was learning to be a team and how hard you have to work and support each other throughout the whole year. That was something that I had picked up and I think everyone on the team did.
I think for myself, I developed a lot as the year went on. The on-ice skills improved and I think my mental game improved. Obviously, being my first year as a full-time starter, I got quite a few games in so I now have that experience which will benefit me moving forward.”
Transitioning to the sun-baked interior has brought its share of challenges for the Victoria native. That fact, much to the writer’s demise, has no relation to a chilling example of Garand’s dedication to staying in game shape.
“Something that I started doing this year was taking ice baths after every practice which really helped my legs not be so tired. When your body is feeling tired, it’s hard on you mentally as well. I think playing as many games as I did was — obviously it was a challenge — but it was just a new experience for me. I think it definitely helped me get into a groove. There are lots of pros to playing as many games as I did.”
Garand’s 28 wins and 0.921 save percentage were third-best in the WHL. His 2.21 goals-against average, also third-best, conquered Kenric Exner’s franchise record of 2.31 set in 1998-99.
“It’s a pretty cool feeling [setting the record]. I’m honored because there’s been a lot of good goalies that have come through Kamloops, it’s kind of been known to be the goalie factory. To have one of the records is definitely a huge honor but I’m not finished with the records yet, I’m still chasing more so I’d love to see where that goes.”
Confidence is manifested in many forms; like his work in the crease, Garand’s is calm and detailed. And as is the theme when speaking with current and former Blazers’ netminders alike, goaltending coach Dan De Palma is given his due credit.
“It’s unbelievable. He’s not only a tremendous coach but a tremendous person. You can go to him not just for hockey but for anything, he’s always there for you. To be able to lean on him has been super beneficial for me and I don’t think I’d be who I am today without him.”
The dedication of Garand and his supporting staff will likely be rewarded this summer when the NHL Draft rolls around.
“That’s been something that I’ve mainly shifted my focus to on top of next season. It’s kind of tough right now with the unpredictability of everything. Obviously, I was looking forward to going to Montreal and getting that draft experience but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen now. Honestly, what I’ve been saying is ‘I’d rather them just have the draft than not have it at all.’ So it’s just waiting and seeing what’s gonna happen and hopefully, soon enough they’ll make an announcement.”
Forecasting the CHL’s return to normalcy, like just about any sports league, remains up in the air. When that is sorted, expect Garand to be ready for the call.
“There’s a ton of excitement. I miss hockey probably more than I ever have. I’m super excited for next year, I think we’re gonna have a good team. I really haven’t thought too far ahead in that aspect about winning because, for example, I don’t think anyone expected Portland to be the best team in the league [this season], so you never know how good some teams will be. I’m just looking forward to getting back with the guys and going after it. I think we’re gonna have a really good team and hopefully, we can compete for the Ed Chynoweth (Cup).”