LAVAL – Cayden Primeau is the undisputed star of the Laval Rocket’s awesome playoff run, and has finally given a beautiful gold ribbon to a season that hasn’t always been a gift.
The first extended stint in the National League is a pivotal moment in a player’s career. Primeau will keep him a bittersweet memory. The Canadian claimed a dozen games, struggling to finish half of them. He emerged from this grueling period with just one win and an average of 4.62 goals against.
Months later, well protected from the storm, the 22-year-old can think about it calmly. He speaks of expectations, especially his own, that have not been met. Quicksand in which he began to get bogged down and his more or less appropriate way of navigating the slide.
It’s easy to forget that he just released stats reminiscent of Carey Price in his only American League playoff appearance, but there was a time when he thought he wasn’t going to make it unscathed. That among the many heresies of his horrendous season, the Canadian had just found a way to squander his goalkeeper of the future.
When he admits to having spent a bad quarter of an hour, Primeau assures that he never feared that the damage to confidence would be irreversible.
“I actually spoke to the team’s sports psychologist about it. We talked about how, even though we didn’t know exactly what would come out of it at the time, we knew there would be positive things. I wish I never had to go through times like this again, but I know it made me stronger and today I’m grateful for that. »
“I’m a much better goalkeeper than I was at the beginning of the year,” he insists. »
Of course, the benefits did not come immediately. In 17 American League games after his relegation in February, he had 3.11 goals against average and a .907 save rate. The tougher nights continued to be a part of his routine, but a more defined role in the shadow of the Montreal crowd helped him rebuild.
“Being able to find my rhythm in one place and being able to focus on getting back to basics has been great for me. I think that stability helped me the most to regain my confidence. »
Primeau didn’t start the series against the Syracuse Crunch, but he made 37 saves in Game 2 and never gave up. He guided the rocket to victory in a Finals appearance. His numbers: 2.17 goals against average and 0.936 percent defense.
“Yes, he surprised me,” admits head coach Jean-François Houle. And as I told him this morning, what I liked about him was that I found he had a lot more confidence. He was more solid in front of his net when opposing teams came towards him to try to push him. He has done much better than at the beginning of the year. I felt that he controlled the game a bit better with added time. When we needed a whistle, he held the puck or turned it up. His management of the game was much better. »
“Everyone saw how good he was during the playoffs, even admits Kevin Poulin, who had to leave him at the end of the season. He was well prepared, well focused. He even gave us a chance to win on the nights we weren’t in the game. »
Another year in Laval?
Primeau’s recent exploits could easily prove to be a double-edged sword. Inevitably, we’ll soon start talking about his place in the organization and the role he should be entrusted with next season.
At the moment, the main prospect is playing it safe. He says nothing about whether a permanent place in the NHL is one of his short-term goals. “This will definitely be the biggest summer of my career, I won’t hide that. But I don’t want to make any expectations about where I will start next season. I’ll give it my all this summer, I’ll show up at camp and hope for the best. »
The best? For Poulin, who made it to the National League aged 20 but never managed to stay there, it undoubtedly marks a return to the minors.
“I think he needs to have a serious year just in the American League. That he plays every game, that his focus is on the Rocket, that he doesn’t commute too much. That he plays his matches, that he develops. »
“Being a goalkeeper at a certain point is a lot more mental than physical,” continues the 32-year-old veteran. I think he gained confidence during the playoffs. If he can bring it back next year, be more confident… After that you give him a chance, but not just because there’s an injury or something. A real chance. »
Houle doesn’t hesitate to get behind the experienced goalkeeper.
“It doesn’t just apply to him, but to several players. You have to be patient, you have to take your time. You have to be sure to develop the players well and sometimes that takes time. In the American League it sometimes takes several years. Skipping steps isn’t so good sometimes. I think you have to be patient as an organization and I think that’s how we’ll be able to develop more players. »