Asked to list his strengths as a goaltender, Mike Zacharias’ quick reflexes kicked in as he delivered an intriguing response.
“I think I’m a pretty decent puck player,” said Zacharias, the first goalie to sign with the Reign this off-season. “I know in the pro game it’s a little different; they have the trapezoid and I won’t be able to wander as much. … I’m good at getting the puck out to my defensemen.”
Goalies who can deliver the long pass are often tempted to take aim at the opposite goal, at least when it’s empty. Has it ever worked for Zacharias?
“I have not (scored a goal). That’s a bit unfortunate,” Zacharias said from his home in Minnesota, where he is spending the off-season. “I came close two or three times. One time, my second year of juniors, I hit the post. That was majorly disappointing.”
Though it always adds an extra dimension when a goaltender isn’t afraid to make the first pass, Karl Taylor did not pursue Zacharias for his offense. The Reign coach hopes that the 24-year-old goalie will bring to Ontario the same drive that’s allowed Zacharias to exceed expectations at every level thus far.
That Zacharias has a Minnesota pedigree (he’s a native of Plymouth and recently graduated with a degree in economics from Minnesota State-Mankato) is no coincidence. Taylor said he likes the work ethic of most Minnesotans, and three (Jon Francisco, Dan Knapp, Mike Howe) played for the Reign in the team’s inaugural season.
“He’s got to have the ‘compete level.’ He has to raise the level of play of your teammates,” Taylor said. “If he can’t carry that weight, he can’t be an elite goaltender. There’s nothing worse in practice than a goalie who doesn’t try on every shot.”
At 5-foot-10, Zacharias has had to work harder to get farther in the game than many netminders. Only one of the 20 goaltenders taken in the most recent entry draft, just one is listed as shorter than 6 feet tall, and the average height of the others is approximately 6-2 1/2.
He wasn’t even handed the starting job in college, but went on to become Mankato’s all-time leader in goals-against average and save percentage.
“Size is always an issue,” Taylor said. “That the new thing, you want a big bodied goalie, but (Zacharias) has always been able to overcome that at every level.”
Zacharias wasn’t eligible to be chosen in the most recent draft, and admits he probably didn’t have the physical or mental maturity teams were looking for when he was eligible, back in 2003. And so he fell in the lap of the Reign, whom he carefully considered among “probably four” ECHL offers.
He will attend the Manchester Monarchs’ AHL camp first, along with several other Reign rookies. Then, presumably, the Inland Empire will have a chance to see what their newest goalie is all about.
Blink, and you might miss it.
“The things I lack in size I make up for in speed,” he said. “I have more of a reflex game.”