Ty Edmonds is a rare exception in the Western Hockey League.
Most goaltenders have a season or two playing the role as backup to an older incumbent.
Not Edmonds. He's been the go-to guy for the Prince George Cougars practically since he joined the team two years ago as a 17-year-old rookie.
Ever since Brett Zarowny went down with a groin injury warming up for a game Dec. 6, 2013, Edmonds has been the Cougars starting goalie and he's still the guy the Cougars are counting on to carry that weight.
"Eddie's not going anywhere, he's our guy right now. He's the guy who took us to the playoffs last year and we'll certainly be counting on him taking us further into the playoffs this year," said Cougars head coach Mark Holick.
"He was put in a tough situation here when Zarowny got hurt and all of a sudden he's got to play, and last year, with Zarowny not coming to camp, he was thrust into that position. Mentally, he's come a long way and certainly from 18 to 19 he's become a lot more mature. He's worked with (sports psychologist Saul Miller) a lot on the mental part of the game. He understands the work ethic and the preparation involved and he's not afraid to do that.
"His effort has been excellent, he came into camp in good shape and the results are where they are because he had a good summer."
Edmonds played well in the preseason, and part of that had to do with his physical conditioning. Now listed at six-foot-two, 185 pounds, he spent the off-season at home in Winnipeg and used that time to get stronger and more flexible.
"It's been pretty much the same as last year, you feel stronger and faster so it's always nice to see results and I'm really enjoying it," said Edmonds.
Edmonds won the hearts of Cougar fans in October 2013 when he posted two shutouts in the same week and allowed just three goals in five games during that stretch. At that point he'd played only two other games, coming in to relieve Zarowny. The Cougars missed the playoffs that year but Edmonds was good enough to get picked for the 2014 BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game.
Despite many appearances in front of pro scouts, Edmonds was bypassed in the draft. He played 55 games in 2013-14 and was called upon to make 1,488 saves. His workload increased to 60 games last season. He posted a 3.85 goals-against average with a .892 save percentage in 2014-15, making 1,654 saves on 1,854 shots. That's a lot of rubber fired his way but Edmonds has benefited from it and is ready to take on his shoulders a Cougar team expected to push Kelowna for the B.C. Division title this season.
"He's played a lot of hockey at our level and nothing beats experience - he knows what to expect," said Holick. "I think bringing (20-year-old goalie) Mack (Shields) in here has helped him. He hasn't had an older guy to bend his ear and learn from and for Eddie it's been a tough part of the game but he's worked through it. Mack has had some experience in the regular season and the playoffs and you see them talking quite a bit, so it's good they've formed a bit of friendship right now."
Having Shields around since the start of camp in late August has been a great benefit for Edmonds. His presence is wearing off on Edmonds in a positive way.
"Mack's a great guy and an even better goalie out there so it's easy to look up to him," said Edmonds. "He's challenging me, making me the best I can be. It's hard sometimes getting pushed by younger people but when you have somebody to look up to it's a lot easier to be pushed. I've never had that.
"I know he's older but we're kind of on the same page and it's nice to have someone to compete with and push me. I know I'll be the starter again so I have no loss of confidence with the situation right now. I know it'll be the same as last year, it just depends on who will be helping me out."
Shields took the Hitmen into the third round of playoffs after playing 49 regular-season games for Calgary last year, posting a 2.67 goals-against average and .900 save percentage with two shutouts. He's a proven commodity with three years of WHL experience and the Cougars have decided to keep him as one of their 20-year-olds.
Edmonds can see in practice the Cougars are a stronger team, with seven players having gone to NHL camps, and a solid core of returning players. He expects them to build off last year's playoff experience.
"We have a lot of strong shooters - a lot of guys put a lot of work in this summer so it looks good and the play has definitely improved," he said. "I think we'll be an awesome team with a lot of potential. Just the skill and the way we'll flow as team, we're a year older now and we'll be a lot more mature and ready to go. I see us doing good things this year."