T-Bird goalie grads shine between the pipes
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Recently, Colorado Thunderbirds director of hockey operations and 16U AAA coach Angelo Ricci and goaltending instructor Cam Clemenson struck up a conversation relating to the number of graduates now stopping pucks in the high-level junior and NCAA ranks.
The list is pretty impressive, to say the least.
“The Thunderbirds have always had a solid base of goalies – even before I came on (four years ago) when Brian TenEyck was here – so going into the job I’d never say it was easy, but I pretty much knew what I was walking into,” said Clemenson.
“Brian laid the groundwork and deserves a ton of credit for all he accomplished. (Thunderbirds coach) Buddy Blom has also been a major asset and influence on me.”
Former Thunderbird netminders in the NCAA Division I ranks include Ryan Benitez (Providence College), Cole Huggins (Minnesota State University), Ryan Massa (University of Nebraska-Omaha), Rob Nichols (University of Connecticut) and Derek Shatzer (Colorado College).
Cam Gibbar recently played NCAA Division III for Hamilton College, and Cody Campbell D-I at Niagara University.
Two more former Thunderbirds are playing Major Junior in the Western Hockey League: Daniel Mumaugh (Seattle Thunderbirds) and Evan Smith (Victoria Royals). Another, Hunter Bancroft, is a Seattle prospect, but sidelined for the season with an injury.
In the United States Hockey League (USHL), Kris Carlson (Waterloo Black Hawks), Hayden Hawkey (Omaha Lancers) and Cale Morris (Chicago Steel) are former Clemenson students.
Over the summer, Hawkey, a Providence College recruit, was unexpectedly selected in the sixth round of the NHL Entry Draft by the Montreal Canadiens.
“I had Hayden for four years and to see where he is from playing 15U to now, it’s just incredible,” Clemenson said. “I just enjoy seeing these kids develop and understand what they need to do to get to that next level. Hayden is definitely one of those kids.”
Tom Barendregt (Sioux Falls Stampede, Thunderbirds 18U) and Dayton Rasmussen (Waterloo, Thunderbirds 16U) are two USHL-protected goaltenders playing for Colorado this season, while Nick Kossoff (Keystone Ice Miners) and Austin Shaw (Wichita Falls Wildcats) are honing their skills in the North American Hockey League.
“It’s pretty amazing to see how many players have moved on,” said Clemenson.
All the success stories aside, Clemenson admits it’s no easy task building a junior-ready goaltender and, down the line, one with college and pro potential.
“The mental aspect is the biggest challenge I face with these kids, who are anywhere from 14 or 15 all the way up to 18 years old,” said Clemenson. “They have school, family, maybe a girlfriend and hockey on top of it. That’s a lot to deal with, you know?
“They need to be strong mentally, and most of them are where they should be in that regard, but to be able to leave home eventually to play juniors, you need to be mentally strong.”
Clemenson has been coaching with the Thunderbirds organization for seven years. He grew up in Colorado and played junior hockey in the Northern Pacific Hockey League before a brief stint with the Central Hockey League’s Rocky Mountain Rage.
He also works with goalies in the Foothills Hockey Association and is on the staff of In The Crease Goaltending.
“I tell all these kids that they just need to let things go,” said Clemenson. “Just go out, play hockey and have fun. And when I see things happen like Hayden getting drafted, it just means I’ve done my job.”
– Matt Mackinder