LEWISTON — Carsen Chubak admits during his youth he pretended he was Felix Potvin, Wendel Clark or Doug Gilmour whenever he played ball hockey in the basement or on the street with his friends back home in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.
It’s a normal sequence almost every youth hockey player has imagined while in a just-having-fun setting.
There may be a kid who someday pretends to be Chubak in such a situation – sliding around in goalie pads and frustrating opposing shooters much the same way “Chubs” has done throughout his career. If that happens, then Chubak’s dream of playing in the NHL would have come true.
Glens Falls is not the NHL, but it is a step closer to Chubak’s ultimate goal and reason enough for the reigning Atlantic Hockey Player of the Year and Hobey Baker Award finalist to forgo his senior season at Niagara for the life of a professional goaltender.
The 5-foot-11, 24-year-old Chubak recently signed a one-year American Hockey League contract with the Adirondack Phantoms, the Philadelphia Flyers’ top farm team. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but according to the Professional Hockey Players Association website, a player in the second-best travel league in North America is guaranteed to earn at least a minimum of $41,500 – not including a signing bonus – during the 2013-14 season.
“Just the opportunity to play professional hockey, it’s been a dream of mine,” said Chubak, who grew up rooting for the Toronto Maple Leafs, as to why he opted to leave Niagara early. “When a dream slaps you in the face ... you don’t reject it.”
Added Purple Eagles coach Dave Burkholder: “When you hear about a kid fulfilling his lifelong dream, Niagara University and the hockey program is a small part of it. ... For us to be able to help with that is a great story.”
Signing with the Phantoms is just the latest chapter in Chubak’s story of hard work and perseverance.
He missed most of his freshman season with a knee injury. Nine months into his rehab, a hip ailment surfaced that also required surgery. All told, those injuries limited him to a total of 10 appearances, including just the season opener in 2011-12, his first two years at Niagara.
He showed just how sensational he could be when fully healthy during his just-completed junior season. He shared the national lead in shutouts (six) en route to a 23-7-5 record with a 1.91 goals-against average and .939 save percentage.
He helped Niagara win the regular season Atlantic Hockey title and earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, where he made 41 stops in a 2-1 first-round loss to a North Dakota team featuring 14 NHL draft picks compared to the Purple Eagles’ none.
“I feel like I have a lot of momentum going there right now, a lot of confidence,” Chubak said. “It’s a good time to move on and at the same time if something did happen [to me] next year I think I would regret not taking [this opportunity] for the rest of my life so I did not want that to happen.”
With Chubak gone, Niagara plans to bring in two freshmen goalies to compete with sophomore-to-be holdover Chris Paulin of Lockport, according to Burkholder.
Chubak’s hot start to the 2012-13 season (8-1-3 mark with 0.99 GAA, five shutouts and .970 save percentage), in which he posted three straight shutouts and four in a five-game span from Oct. 26 to Nov. 9, caught the attention of the Flyers and other NHL scouts.
Flyers Director of Player Development Don Luce, the ex-Sabres forward who is in charge of overseeing the operation of Philadelphia’s AHL team, watched Chubak will the Purple Eagles to a 2-1 win over rival Canisius last November at the Buffalo State Ice Arena. In that game, Chubak flaunted his athleticism, ability to read the play and most importantly, his determination to win every play.
”It’s a good opportunity for the kid and good for us,” Flyers’ Director of Hockey Operations Chris Pryor told the Philadelphia Inquirer earlier this week. “You never know.”
Chubak, who had hopes of receiving an NHL contract offer, signed with the Phantoms because of the organization’s goaltending situation. It’s in a state of flux with rumors that the Flyers will likely buy out free-agent bust Ilya Bryzgalov during the summer.
The only other goalies under contract in the organization include NHL veteran and 2009 Calder Trophy winner Steve Mason and Cal Heeter, who appeared in 32 games for the Phantoms last season.
Heeter and current veteran free agent Scott Munroe, the former Alabama-Huntsville star, combined to appear in 63 games with a 24-32-4 mark last season. Munroe had the better GAA (2.78) and save percentage (.913) than Heeter (2.92, .908).
“The goaltending situation is a little bit shaky right now,” said Chubak, who also received interest from the Islanders and Oilers. “That definitely does make it more appealing. ... It was one of the places that I really looked at and I was really hoping they’d offer me something.
“It’s just a great opportunity. ... Of course wherever you go, they’re going to have prospects and you have to work your way up and of course there’s competition in professional hockey but it was definitely probably the best fit in the league for myself.”