Junior hockey: Twin City Thunder gives goalies an extended look

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AUBURN — With no goaltenders currently on the NCDC’s 2022-23 roster, the Twin City Thunder are taking a long look at the position this weekend.

The organization organizes a three-day goalkeeper-specific camp involving 16 goalkeepers aged 16 to 20 at the Norway Savings Bank Arena. For the past two years, they have held a one-day camp before the main camp begins in August.

“It gives goalkeepers more chances to show what they have, instead of blocking it a few days before camp and you bring in 40 goalkeepers and then you have to cut (a lot of goalkeepers) – he doesn’t seem fair,” Twin City Thunder co-owner and coach Dan Hodge said. “This camp here is just for goaltenders and (we’ve got) a few shooters. We’re seeing what (goalkeepers) can do.

The Thunder coaching staff will invite six goaltenders to NCDC’s main camp, which runs Aug. 18-21. In each of the NCDC team’s first three seasons, the Thunder found a free agent guest goaltender at main camp who was on the roster. All of the goaltenders in attendance this weekend are free agents at the Tier II junior hockey level.

Ben Walsh, an 18-year-old from Auburn, Mass., who attended day one of goaltending camp on Friday, attended a similar goaltending camp with a junior hockey team.

“They’re a good way to see the goaltenders, other than the (skaters),” Walsh said. “You can get a good idea of ​​the goalkeeper’s skills before the main camp, where there are more games played and more difficult to differentiate each guy.

Walsh played last season with the Fredericton Red Wings (New Brunswick) of the Maritime Hockey League. The Red Wings’ general manager is former Lewiston Maineiacs general manager Roger Shannon.

Main camps and summer showcases — the Thunder organization took part in the USPHL’s summer showcase last weekend in Marlborough, Massachusetts — aren’t normally goaltender-friendly.

Jeff Dreger, the lone goalie in camp this weekend who competed last weekend for the Thunder at the USPHL Summer Showcase, said going with the flow in this environment.

“You have to take every hit you get,” Dreger said. “You can be lucky and have a really good group of guys like me, or you can’t. It really depends, and you have to deal with whatever happens. It’s not really a situation where the eyes are on you, but you have to be solid in the moments when you need to be solid.

The Manhattan Beach, Calif. native, who played for the Maine Moose 18U team in Hallowell last season, attended a goalie-specific junior hockey camp a few years ago with the League’s Omaha Lancers United States hockey.

Dreger said he finds these camps to be good learning experiences.

“There were 20 guys there (at Omaha camp), but we had four or five straight days of goalie work,” Dreger said. “It was fantastic for my game and I learned a lot just watching the guys. Just like here I watched the other goalkeepers, and they are all very capable themselves at what they do well.

TWO MAINE GUARDIANS PARTICIPATE

For those who follow high school hockey in Maine, one of Pine Tree State’s two goaltenders might seem familiar; the other is a name some fans may not have heard before, but it gives junior hockey a shot.

The first name is Gage Tarbox-Bélanger, who helped lead Thornton Academy to the Class A state championship game before losing to Scarborough. The other is Cole Freeman, the replacement for Class B champion North Camden Hills.

Freeman, a senior in 2021-22, played just three games all last season, as starter Jackson Bernier got most starts for the Windjammers. Freeman started just one of those games, a 5-2 win over the Capital Region Hawks on Feb. 19, making nine saves.

“I heard about (the camp) from my boss at Samoset (Resort in Rockland) and thought I’d give it a try if I saved some money,” Freeman said. “It’s been really fun.”

Prior to last season, Freeman was lower on the Windjammers’ goalkeeping depth chart; he was between the third and fifth option, he said.

Freeman, a valet at Samoset, said his family didn’t have much money, so he saved the $250 to attend camp.

“I was nervous the last few days, thinking how good these guys are going to be. NHL-caliber shots, everyone is going to come in,” Freeman said. “I think I did well today; I hope I can do better tomorrow because I haven’t had a lot of ice time in the last six months.

Freeman isn’t sure what his hockey future holds after this weekend.

Tarbox-Bélanger is using this camp to prepare for the upcoming season with the Maine Moose 18U team.

He said his senior season, in which he went 14-6 with a 1.59 goals-against average and .942 save percentage, helped him pursue hockey after the secondary.

“It helped me a lot because I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue,” Tarbox-Bélanger said. “After a good season in high school, I decided I still wanted to play.”

Tarbox-Bélanger said he is looking to play junior hockey in 2023-24.


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