Imagine you are the first-year head coach of an AHL team. You are given two goalies for the season. One of them is entering his third year in the AHL, the other is from Russia and in his first season in North America. He doesn’t speak English, but is considered your NHL affiliate’s top prospect.
And by the way, you’re expected to win.
That is the situation that was handed to Hershey Bears head coach Spencer Carbery this season with Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov.
The much heralded Samsonv was the Capitals’ first round draft pick in 2015. He is widely seen as the Caps’ future starter in net and there was a lot of excitement over his first season in the AHL.
But that didn’t mean Vanecek was simply going to yield the starting job in Hershey to Samsonov.
Vanecek was a high draft pick as well, going in the second round in 2014 just one year before Samsonov and he has NHL aspirations of his own.
So what do you do with two goalies competing to impress the NHL club, one with the experience and the other with the fame and expectations?
Carbery elected to go with an even split throughout the season.
Through 47 games, Samsonov has played in 25, Vanecek in 23. Rather than lean on one goalie as the clear starter, the goalies cycle in and out.
As was to be expected, Samsonov struggled initially while Vanecek thrived. Vanecek’s game seemed to go up to another level this season and to Carbery, it’s not hard to figure out why.
“Going into the year, I would have said that I think Vitek understood sort of the situation that Ilya Samsonov is coming here to play in Hershey is a top prospect,” Carbery said. “He understood all of that and I think he took it in a way of, OK, I need to now when I get an opportunity to play whether that's opening night, whether it's the next night, I want to prove to everybody in this organization and around the AHL and the NHL that I can be the guy and I'm going to push whether it's a first round, second round or a top prospect, I'm going to push whoever is my goaltending partner and that's kind of the way I think it started and Vitek had a great start.”
Vanecek was the team’s lone representative at the AHL All-Star game and was the best goalie at the event, helping lead the Atlantic Division all the way to the final in the 3-on-3 tournament before the team lost in a shootout.
But regardless of how well Vanecek played and how much Samsonov struggled, Carbery maintained the cycle. By keeping the playing time an even split, it took away from any tension there may have been between the two netminders. Rather than feeling like they are in constant competition with one another, Carbery has been very impressed with how both netminders always seem to lift each other up.
“The cool thing between these two guys which I think I have grown to really appreciate and I've watched it and I keep kind of a close eye on how they interact is they pull for one another and they're very supportive of one another,” Carbery said. “They're very close when it comes to when they do their goalie drills, when they compete against shooters, they're rooting for one another. When they do shootouts, all these little things, they celebrate together which I always smile when I see that because they're two competitive guys that want to play every night, but they also have a special bond I feel like and I've observed.”
The continued confidence Carbery has shown both netminders seems to be working. Vanecek has played consistently well all season. Samsonov, on the other hand, seems to have turned a corner from his initial struggles.
Ilya Samsonov’s last 8 games.. BTW, @TheHersheyBears won all 8:— Rob Carlin (@RobCarlinNBCS) February 11, 2019
0 G, 18 saves
0 G, 16 saves
3 G, 22 saves
1 G, 20 saves
1 G, 25 saves
1 G, 21 saves
2 G, 35 saves
1 G, 29 saves
I’m sure #Caps are paying close attention.. Exciting future starting to take shape.. #ALLCAPS pic.twitter.com/DyHJpKf1U2
“We've got we [feel] a good one, two or 1a, 1b where either guy plays gives us a great chance to win games,” Carbery said, “And now they're taking it as a competitive environment where they're trying to earn more starts, but also in a way that they're supporting one another and pushing one another in a real productive way.”
Other prospect notes:
- In addition to feeling more comfortable on the ice, Samsonov also seems to be feeling more comfortable with the language as well.
- Could something as simple as a number change be responsible for Samsonov’s turnaround? He began the season as No. 1 for the Bears, but recently asked for a different number and now wears 35. Apparently he feels there is a lot of pressure associated with wearing the No. 1. The change happened near the start of his hot streak. It’s far too simplistic to credit wearing No. 35 for his improved play, but I also would not dismiss what that little bit of extra confidence could mean for a goalie.
- Aaron Ness is tied for first among all AHL defensemen with 32 assists.
- Chase Priskie intended to sign with the Capitals last season, he told the New Haven Register, but returned for his senior season after Quinnipiac suffered a tough loss in the conference quarterfinals against Cornell. “My initial intentions were to leave and sign,” Priskie said. “But I thought I could leave more of a legacy at this program. I want to be one of the best players to ever come out of here. That’s my goal. I hadn’t obtained that after my junior year. I decided there was no rush and that it would be best to come back and mentor the big freshman class we had coming in.” Read the full story here.
- Priskie has been nominated for yet another award in his phenomenal senior season. Priskie is among the ten nominees for the 2018-19 Senior CLASS Award. “To be eligible for the award, student-athletes must be classified as NCAA Division I seniors and have notable achievements in four areas of excellence: community, classroom, character and competition.” Priskie has 35 points this season, second in the nation among defensemen. He also leads the nation in power-play goals with nine and is tied for the most goals by a defenseman with 14.
- Martin Fehervary competed for his native Slovakia in the Kaufland Cup this past week, a three-team international tournament. Slovakia won the tournament with a 2-1 win over Belarus and a 5-1 win over Russia.
- In an interview, Fehervary talked about keeping in contact with the Caps will playing in the SHL in Sweden. He fills out a questionnaire for Washington every week talking about his games, how much he plays and in what situations, how much he sleeps, etc. It’s an interesting look into how the Caps keep track of their prospects overseas.
- There’s a very touching story out of Vancouver involving prospect Alex Kannok-Leipert. A young 10-year-old girl has become a regular at Vancouver Giants games with handmade signs for the players. Several of the players, including Kannok-Leipert, returned the favor by showing up to her first hockey practice with signs for her. “She first saw us when she was on the ice,” Kannok-Leipert told the National Post. “She took a minute to read all the signs and then she had to skate away or else she was going to break down a little bit. Her reaction and the way her parents thanked us … it’s a time I’ll always remember. It was pretty cool that we were able to do that.” This is a very cool story and one that’s worth the time to read.
MORE CAPITALS NEWS:
- Mail's Here: JJ Regan tackles the fourth line in latest Caps Mailbag
- Caps-Jackets: Holtby's incredible effort not enough as tired Caps fall
- On the Road Again: What Caps must do on longest road trip in eight years
- Trade Deadline: For / Against Wayne Simmonds