When a team’s starting goaltending is forced to miss time with an injury, it leads to an opportunity for the backup.
Just ask William Grimard — the 18-year-old was expected to be the Cape Breton Eagles’ backup to Kevin Mandolese, but those plans changed when Mandolese suffered a lower-body injury during a game against the Moncton Wildcats on Oct. 31.
Although Grimard would like to see Mandolese, an Ottawa Senators' draft pick now in his fourth season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, back in the lineup, he’s embracing the chance to have more playing time and is taking full advantage of the opportunity.
“I’m ready to play all the games that the coaches ask of me,” said Grimard. “I know I can play well, and I feel I’m at my best when I face adversity.”
Since the injury to Mandolese, the Wotton, Que., native has played nine consecutive games, heading into tonight's tilt with the Saint John Sea Dogs at Centre 200.
Among those contests were three games in three days during the team’s recent Quebec road trip, which saw the club make stops in Sherbrooke, Shawinigan and Victoriaville before returning home last weekend.
Grimard admits the Quebec road trip was a challenge.
“I would say it’s hard physically and mentally because you have to be set for each team and each day,” said Grimard, noting the team didn’t play its best hockey against Sherbrooke and Shawinigan.
“I was pretty tired at the end of the road trip, but we had a week to rest and I think it was great for us because we played well last weekend.”
Cape Breton returned to home ice last weekend to kick off a five-game homestand, starting with a pair of tough teams in the Baie-Comeau Drakkar and Chicoutimi Saguenéens.
Grimard, who was inspired to play hockey by his father, Sylvain, and uncle, Steve, who both played semi-professional hockey in Quebec, was back between the pipes for the Eagles.
He didn’t disappoint the hometown fans.
Grimard turned aside 46 of 47 shots in a 2-1 shootout victory over the Drakkar on Saturday, before stopping 33 of 35 shots in a 2-1 loss to the Saguenéens on Sunday, finishing the weekend having stopped 79 of 82 shots.
The efforts didn’t go unnoticed, earning him back-to-back second star honours.
“It was a great weekend for me, but I think the most important thing is we played well as a team after the tough road trip,” said Grimard. “I’ve always been a calm goaltender on the ice and I think that’s a big part of my game.”
Although he’s not used to carrying the bulk of the games in the QMJHL, Grimard has some experience having a heavy workload in his career.
He was the Trois-Rivières Estacades starting goalie during the 2017-18 season, playing 20 regular season games and starting 13 of the team’s 14 playoff contests that season.
“I see this as an opportunity for me to show people what I bring to the team and for now I’m going to enjoy it,” said Grimard. “We hope that Mando is going to be back soon because he’s an important part of our team, but for now, I’ll do what I can to help the team win.”
During the month of November, Grimard has a record of 3-4-1-0 along with a 3.11 goals against-average and a .903 save percentage and one assist.
Grimard, who considers his puck tracking skills as one of his top qualities, credits his teammates for helping him adjust to being an everyday starter by limiting the number of dangerous scoring opportunities each game.
“They’re playing well in front of me and it helps me a lot to play my best,” said Grimard, who was a fourth-round draft pick of the Rimouski Océanic in 2017.
Eagles head coach Jake Grimes, whose son, Dixon, is a goaltender in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League, said the team has lots of faith in Grimard’s ability in goal.
“There’s a lot of pressure being in net when your goaltending partner is working on coming back from an injury,” said the team’s first-year head coach.
“That type of pressure sometimes gets the best out of guys and William’s last two games have been outstanding — he’s stepped up and so has our players in the defensive area.”
Because of the excessive workload, the team is handling Grimard a bit different when it comes to practice time.
“We don’t need to run him into the ground at practice — not many guys would have gone on the road and played three-in-three like he did last week,” said Grimes, who prior to Oct. 31 regularly gave both Mandolese and Grimard time in goal.
“It’s an abnormal workload that he’s taken on here, even for a starter or a guy with more veteran time in the league, so we’ve made sure he gets the style of practice that he needs with our
goalie coaches and not necessarily the whole time with our players.”
Over the past month, Grimes has been impressed with Grimard’s cool and collected nature between the pipes.
“His composure is coming to a level that keeps him calm and ready and allows him to set early for shots and control rebounds,” said Grimes. “I think the mental side of his game is coming along nicely and I think he’s an athlete already.”
Grimard and the Eagles will return to action tonight when they host the Sea Dogs at 7 p.m. at Centre 200 in Sydney.
Cape Breton last played Saint John on Sept. 29 in Sydney. The Eagles won the game 8-3 and Grimard turned aside 21 of 24 shots for the win.
The Sea Dogs enter the game on a two-game winning streak after posting back-to-back victories over the Acadie-Bathurst Titan last weekend.
As for Grimard, he’s looking forward to getting back in the net.
“I’m ready to go,” said Grimard. “We have to have the same game plan as we did last weekend and if we keep playing like we did as a team, I think things will go well for us Wednesday.”
- Hometown: Wotton, Que.
- Age: 18
- Position: Goaltender
- Team: Cape Breton Eagles (QMJHL)
- Height: 6’3”
- Weight: 185
- QMJHL Draft: Selected in the fourth-round, No. 64 overall, by the Rimouski Océanic in 2017
- NHL Draft: Eligible for the 2020 draft
- 2015-16 – Bois-Francs Cascades (Bantam ‘AAA’) – Games Played: 20 – Record: Unavailable – G.A.A.: 2.54 – SV%: Unavailable
- 2016-17 - Trois-Rivières Estacades (QMAAAHL) – 19 Games Played – Record: Unavailable – G.A.A.: 2.43 – SV%: 0.907
- 2017-18 - Trois-Rivières Estacades (QMAAAHL) – 20 Games Played – Record: Unavailable – G.A.A.: 2.51 – SV% 0.900
- 2017-18 – Rimouski Océanic (QMJHL) – 2 Games Played - Record: 0-1-1-0 – G.A.A.: 2.79 – SV%: 0.857
- 2018-19 – Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL) – 23 Games Played – Record: 11-10-0-1 – G.A.A.: 2.83 – SV% 0.868
- 2019-20 – Cape Breton Eagles (QMJHL) – Games Played – 16 – Record: 8-7-1-0 – G.A.A.: 3.64 – SV%: 0.891