By Brian Weidler, "Game Time" Prospect Department
Your Game Time Prospect Department recently spoke with Pascal Vincent, head coach and general manager of Club de hockey Junior de Montréal, about his starting goaltender, Blues' prospect Jake Allen.
Vincent had high praise for the New Brunswick native; following is the transcript of the interview, conducted on Jan. 26.
GT: How much did you know about Jake when you took the job as coach and GM in Montreal?
PV: We played St. John's quite a few times, and every time he played, we didn't win... so I knew him well enough to make a decision. When I first arrived in Montreal, we had to make a decision, because we had Jake and another goalie, Timo Pielmeier. And the two of them are great goalies, both deserve to be number one goalies in our league, so we had to make a decision (which of them to keep).
From what I'd seen in the past, and the results (against Cape Breton), and the way Jake played with Team Canada in the Under-18 Tournament, winning the gold medal, being named the MVP of the tournament, and outstanding goalie of the tournament, he answered a lot of questions about performing under extreme pressure, and being the number one guy. So we made the decision to trade Pielmeier (to Shawinigan for Martin Baca and Will Johnson) and we kept Jake as our number one goalie.
GT: How has winning the gold medal at the U-18 World Juniors last year affected Jake's mindset and approach to the game? Has it been a motivator and a confidence booster for him, or does it seem as though he just takes it in stride?
PV: Well, I think it was a confidence booster for him. He was given the (starter's role) by Pat Quinn and they really relied on him, and he did a great job. So it gave him the confidence that he could be not only a good goalie, but one of the best when he's playing against kids his own age. And that gave him confidence going into this year with the Junior team, knowing that he would be the number one and knowing that we would count on him.
And so far he's been excellent; he's been our most consistent player. In my mind he's the best goalie in the league. He's got the size, he's got maturity, he's an athlete, and he's very serious about his training, about his preparation. So I think it's a combination of everything: that tournament, how he started the tournament as the number two guy and finished as the number one, and this year, going to St. Louis, getting signed, winning the gold medal. All those things added up gave him a lot of confidence.
GT: Your goalie coach, Eric Raymond; was he with you in Cape Breton as well?
PV: No; actually, my goalie coach was one of your former players, Vincent Riendeau. Vinnie is still in some ways working with us, but he's in Germany right now, working for Mannheim. But we stay in touch.
"In my mind he's the best goalie in the (Quebec) league. He's got the size, he's got maturity, he's an athlete, and he's very serious about his training, about his preparation."
-- Pascal Vincent
GT: Your goaltending coach has described Jake as a natural athlete, and has high regard for his work ethic and attitude. What's your take on those elements of Jake's game?
PV: He's our man. He's our guy that will make a difference, and so far he's been doing it. I think a real number one goalie will give you a chance to win every single game that he's playing. Of course, once in a while, everyone will have an off-day. But I don't see that happening too often because of his maturity and his preparation. He finds ways to compete and be good every night that he plays. So far he's been really good for us, and the way Eric described Jake... I think the same way, actually.
GT: How is Jake as a person? How does he interact with his teammates, and with the community? Does he have natural leadership abilities?
PV: I think so. I don't think he's extremely vocal, but he does his job. I think, with the way he prepares and the way he trains off the ice, the way he practices, that's what makes him a future pro. He's well-liked in the dressing room, and the guys like to be around him, but he gets in his zone, in his bubble when game time arrives, and they all respect that.
He's well-respected in the dressing room, first of all for what he brings on the ice, but also because he's a great person. The guys really like him
GT: You've had the opportunity to coach some outstanding junior goalies over the last few years -- Marc-Andre Fleury, Ondrej Pavelec and now Jake. At this stage of his career, how does Jake compare to those other goalies at a similar point in their junior careers?
PV: Well, Marc-Andre Fleury was in a league of his own, like I'd never seen before. He was so ahead of his time, so fast. Pavelec is a big kid, and he's a great athlete as well. Jake is not as big as Ondrej was at the same time (in his junior career), but he's bigger than Marc-Andre. And he's not as fast as Fleury, but he's faster than Pavelec. They're all different, but they're all going to end up as good pros.
Marc-Andre Fleury is already a number one in the NHL, Ondrej Pavelec will be a number one, and Jake Allen will be a number one as well, I'm convinced. They're all going to be great goalies. Fleury proved himself, proved that he could bring his team to the Stanley Cup Finals, and I think Jake has that potential as well.
It's tough to compare the (three) goalies because they're all different in their ways, and in the way they play. But as far as what they can bring to a team, I see them all being in the same league.
GT: How would you describe Jake's playing style, and what goalie in the NHL, if any, would you compare Jake's style to?
PV: I don't think I could compare his playing style to anyone, to be honest with you. First of all, I'm not a goalie specialist; the way I see him is as a guy that competes.
His first job, of course, is to stop the puck, but he's also really good around the net, good at stopping the puck behind the net, setting up the breakout, just the little things. He's a patient goalie; he's going to stay up as long as he can, but if he has to go (down) to stop a puck, if there's a rebound or a deflection or something, he'll do it.
I can't really comment on his style, because maybe I wouldn't say the right things, and that wouldn't be fair to Jake... all I can say is that he competes as much as anyone else, maybe more.
GT: After seeing where some of your previous goalies, most notably Fleury, have gone in their careers, what do you see as Jake's ultimate upside?
PV: His maturity, and his ability to deal with adversity, would be his greatest upside. When there's a bad goal (scored against him), or if something just isn't going as planned, he's got the ability to come back. And that ability, which is all mental, brings his game to another level.
When the game is on the line, we know we can count on him. We know he's going to be able to play when the pressure is really high, we know he's going to perform and bring his game to another level when it really counts. So it's his ability to perform when it really counts, and to perform under pressure, and to bounce back after a bad goal.
The mental part of his game is really what makes him special, on top of being a great athlete and having a great work ethic. His mental preparation, his mental strength and toughness, makes him superior to the average goalie.