Pressure makes things better for Walleye rookie goalie Fulcher
The 20-year-old rookie loves living in the limelight.
“As a goalie, you have such a big impact on the game, either positively or negatively,” Fulcher said. “When the game is on the line, you can be a difference-maker. I always like to shoulder the workload and be the main guy on the team. Guys are counting on you.”
Fulcher, a native of Brigden, Ont., was just 8 when he realized his calling was to be a goaltender.
“The bigger the game, the better I play,” the 6-foot-4, 199-pound goalie said. “The more you play in stressful situations, you get into a rhythm.”Fulcher has become known not only for his confidence, but his unparalleled work ethic in his first pro season with the Walleye.
“The one thing you can control is your work ethic,” he said. “I stay out there after practice. I’ll stay out there an hour after, making sure I’m working hard.”
VIDEO: Toledo Walleye rookie goalie Kaden Fulcher
Walleye coach Dan Watson said Fulcher, who has started in 21 of the team’s 47 games, has done all the right things as an up-and-coming netminder.
“He’s a positive kid, and he loves to work,” Watson said. “He stays after out after practice. He does things right, and he’s being rewarded for it.”
The Detroit Red Wings saw promise in the confident, hard-working young goalie and signed Fulcher in October of 2017. Fulcher led the Hamilton Bulldogs to an Ontario Hockey League title last season.
He posted a 32-17-2 record with a 2.86 goals-against average and .899 save percentage. By winning the OHL championship, Fulcher helped Hamilton earn a berth in the Memorial Cup tournament. The Bulldogs lost in the semifinal round the prestigious tournament, which pits the champions of the three major junior hockey leagues in Canada. But Fulcher was named the Most Outstanding Goaltender when posted the best goals-against average (2.27) and save percentage (.918).
Fulcher had a career year last season, including five shutouts.
“A lot of it was growing into my body. I had a late growth spurt. And I just put in the work,” Fulcher said.
Fulcher has a quick sense of humor to match his confidence. The youngster has rotated starts with veteran netminder Pat Nagle, who is in his second year with the Walleye. Nagle, 31, is in his eighth pro season.
“He is like a much, much older brother,” Fulcher said, chuckling. “We have some fun with that. Some of the movies he remembers fondly are movies that came out the year I was born.
“But it’s been fun. He’s a great goalie partner. I like to just watch him before games to see how he prepares. It’s been great having Pat there. We can talk about anything. We have an unbelievable relationship.”
Fulcher said he and some of his fellow younger players on the roster enjoy playing Fortnite, the online video game.
“That’s our big pasttime,” Fulcher said. “I like getting on there with the boys.”
But Fulcher said his most enjoyable hobby is cooking. He said his signature dish is scalloped potatoes and chicken.
“I’m a pretty good cook. I get after it pretty hard,” Fulcher said. “But [Kevin] Tansey’s the chef on the team. He is a really good cook. He gets out the herbs and spices. I just throw stuff together.”
Fulcher rooms with fellow rookie Jordan Topping.
“It’s great living together with the boys in the same apartment complex. We have a bunch of young guys. It’s nice to be able to just walk down the hall,” he said.
On the ice, Fulcher has experienced his ups and downs. He suffered a 5-2 loss to Tulsa at home on Feb. 1, but rebounded with a 4-1 win over Indy on Sunday when he was minutes away from earning his first shutout as a pro.
“It was a great bounce-back game,” Watson said. “Mentally after the Tulsa loss, for a young kid that’s impressive.”
Of the 21 games in which he has appeared, five have gone to the shootout where it’s one-on-one. Fulcher is tied for the most shootout wins in the ECHL with three.
Overall, Fulcher has posted a 13-4-2 record with a 3.03 goals-against average and a .896 save percentage.
Fulcher said it has not been difficult getting up for games while playing before sellout crowds at the Huntington Center. Toledo is averaging 7,691 fans per game this season with 18 sellouts in 23 home games.
“It’s unbelievable the fan support we get every night. Playing in front of a packed building is pretty special,” Fulcher said.
Fulcher said the adjustments from junior hockey to the pro level have been significant.
“You’re playing against grown men now,” he said. “You have to catch up with the speed of the game. There’s a lot more traffic in front of the net and a lot more deflections. Every guy can shoot the puck. They can put the puck in from anywhere. So you have to stay on your toes and be ready for shots.”
Fulcher said he has worked extensively with Brian Mahoney-Wilson, the Red Wings’ goaltending development coach. Mahoney-Wilson comes to the Huntington Center to work with Fulcher and Nagle about once every two weeks.
“We go through our structured stuff to make sure I’m progressing,” Fulcher said. “I work on everything with him. He helps with my technique. We’ve become really good friends.”
Fulcher said he has focused recently on his ability to control rebounds.
“I use my athleticism a lot in net. It’s more butterfly style,” he said. “I’m trying to calm my game down and making sure I don’t have as much movement.”
Fulcher said he hopes to help backstop the Walleye to a Kelly Cup championship to help the organization celebrate its 10th season in style. The Walleye (29-11-7) currently sit in second place in both the Central Division and the Western Conference.
“We’re set here with an opportunity to make a big run that we all want,” Fulcher said. “We have all the right pieces to make a strong push. All the guys on this team want to win the championship.”
PROMOTION: Veteran forward T.J. Hensick has been loaned to the San Jose Barracuda of the American Hockey League. The former University of Michigan standout and former NHLer leads the ECHL in scoring with 58 points (17 G, 41 A) over 47 games.