Zachary Fucale’s long road to the NHL ends with historic debut win

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Zachary Fucale was the first goaltender selected in the 2013 NHL Draft when the Canadiens picked him 36th overall. After a long journey that took him through four NHL organizations, five American Hockey League teams, and four ECHL franchises, he finally made his NHL debut Thursday night, and it was worth the wait.

The Capitals blanked the Red Wings 2-0 with the 26-year-old Fucale stopping all 21 shots he faced. After a night to remember with his mom, dad and friends in attendance, the Laval, Quebec native went from being reflective on his ride to get to his NHL, to immediately shifting back into hockey player mode.

“It’s been a hell of a journey,” says Fucale. “But now one’s out of the way, and we move on. We go to the next game. That’s the reality of it. It’s a great moment, it really is. It’s a fun night.”

The win obviously meant a lot to Fucale, and his teammates knew how to celebrate the occasion.

“This is one of the greatest moments so far in my hockey career,” Fucale told NBC Sports Washington afterward “What a great defensive game everybody played today. I’m a little bit speechless, guys, I’m sorry. This is happening pretty quickly right now.”

It wasn’t just a meaningful debut for Fucale, it was also an historic one. He became the first Capitals goaltender to record a shutout in their NHL debut and he’s now the seventh netminder in NHL history 26 or older to blank an opponent in their debut.

After over 200 games professionally in the AHL and ECHL, Fucale got his chance, but it was a long road to get here.

No room in Montreal

The path to being a starting goaltender with the Canadiens was blocked for Fucale with Carey Price firmly holding his place as the franchise’s face. Fucale bounced between the AHL and ECHL until 2018 when, after not getting a qualifying offer from Montreal, he signed with the Golden Knights. It was a similar situation in Vegas. Marc-Andre Fleury was the firm No. 1 in goal and the opportunity to win the job was non-existent for a franchise coming off a Stanley Cup Final appearance.

A year later Fucale would wind up in Germany after working out a deal to have have his contract terminated by ECHL Orlando just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In August 2020 he would land with the Capitals and 15 months later, through perseverance and opportunity (Vitek Vanecek was given a maintenance day), the long-awaited day finally arrived.

“I’ve been to a lot of different destinations, leagues, games, Europe and back, and a lot of stuff has happened,” Fucale said Thursday. “I feel like the last few years I’ve been trending in the right direction. I’ve got a good thing going, and I’m just sticking to my game, and I feel like things are working well right now.”

Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette can appreciate the experiences of his goaltender. Laviolette himself played only 12 NHL games, all with the Rangers, and then spent the final nine years of his playing career bouncing between the AHL and International Hockey League with six different teams.

“You always have roads and paths you can take in life and his road was long,” Laviolette said. “He stayed on the right road and he gets the starting game tonight and get rewarded with a big win. It’s pretty awesome.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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