Just because a teenager plays hockey at an elite level, doesn’t mean he’s always blessed with elite teammates.
That was the situation last season for goaltender Daniel Altshuller, who joined the Ottawa Jr. 67’s this season after a very trying 2008-09 campaign with the major bantam Ottawa Senators.
“His team didn’t win all year,” said Jr. 67’s coach John Yablonski. “This year, we have 13 OHL prospects, so you’re going from one side of the coin to the other.”
While Altshuller points out his former squad did win some tournament games, he admits he had to temper his own expectations during a very long season.
“You try your best and you try to keep your team in the game as much as you can,” Altshuller said. “This year I have great teammates and I’m working with Tom Dempsey (goalie coach for the Ontario League’s 67’s) and Eli Wilson (goalie coach for the NHL’s Senators); I’m very thankful for what I have this year.”
And the Jr. 67’s are thankful for Altshuller. Through 13 contests, the young netminder was 9-1-2 with a 1.65 goals-against average and .936 save percentage.
“He’s got great lateral movement, a good glove and he’s a big boy,” Yablonski said of his 6-foot-2, 170-pound keeper. “He flops around a little at times, he’ll make those Dominik Hasek saves, (but) he finds ways to stop the puck.”
One big adjustment Altshuller has been forced to make this season is a lessening of his workload. After all, better teams tend to give up fewer scoring chances, which can be a double-edged sword for a developing netminder.
“It’s very important for him to stay focused all game,” Yablonski said. “He faced 40 shots a game last year versus 20 shots a game this year.”
Fortunately, Altshuller has no problem taking advice, especially when it comes from his pro advisors Dempsey and Wilson.
“What Tom is focusing on with me is keeping my glove ahead of my body instead of parallel to my body,” Altshuller noted. “I think on passes I’m quick at getting across my crease and my positioning is good. I’d like to keep working on rebound control and communicating with my defensemen.”
Altshuller, an Ottawa native, is quite humble when it comes to his skills. When asked which NHL goalie he would like to model himself after, he noted he’d simply love to have the skills of an NHL goaltender, before settling on Montreal’s Carey Price as a personal favorite.
As for why he became a goaltender in the first place, the 15-year-old’s decision came early in his hockey career.
“I decided when I was eight,” he said. “It’s one of those positions where everyone relies on you and I feel I can be that guy who comes in and saves the day when my team needs me.”
Off the ice, coach Yablonski describes Altshuller as a pleasure to work with.
“He’s a good kid all-around,” Yablonski said. “Always laughing, always the last one to leave the dressing room.”
Of course, decision time is nearing for Altshuller. Despite the fact he plays for the Jr. 67’s, the star goalie hasn’t made up his mind as to whether he will go for the OHL or save his NCAA eligibility.
“At the end of the year my family and I will decide,” he said.
Whichever way he chooses, there’s a bright future ahead for the young netminder.
Prep Watch, which features minor hockey players destined to become big names in major junior or the NCAA, appears every second Thursday throughout the season.
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