It’s Friday night, and the Erie Otters are home playing Oshawa, the team who eliminated them from the Robertson Cup finals two seasons ago. This time, however, the game is a rout in favor of Erie: six goals. On the Generals’ side of the scoreboard, a big zero rests as the final buzzer sounds. There’s a collective cheer from the crowd, and the Otters squad raise their sticks in salute to their fans. At the center of the team is Troy Timpano, the recently acquired goaltender from Sudbury, grinning widely; his shutout debut helped propelled his new team to victory, but his success hasn’t stopped there. Timpano, eighteen, is undefeated with the Otters this season, registering seven wins with a 2.14 goals-against-average and a .921 save percentage (as of 10/28/16). His presence in goal has been a key element to the Otters game this year with the departure of long-time starter Devin Williams.
“I had heard about the trade only, maybe, six hours beforehand,” Timpano says of the exchange between Sudbury and Erie. “So it was quick. Really quick. Obviously you’re kind of caught off-guard [ . . . ] I went to my goalie school, and I was actually on the ice with Jake Lawr, and on my way home I got a call saying, ‘It looks like they’ve come to a deal, and it’s with Erie.” At eighteen, being asked to pick up and move to a new city and make new friends is a daunting challenge; even some NHL veterans struggle with the transition. To Timpano, however, there was no doubt or question in his mind: he wanted to play for the Otters. “I knew the opportunity here would be awesome [ . . . ] I can’t deny my time in Sudbury was difficult with the whole rebuilding stage, so when I saw the opportunity [to play in Erie] I took it.”
Timpano was eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft, but after a difficult season with a Sudbury Wolves team that struggled past the goal crease, playing for an experienced and well-coached Otters team is a chance to prove he has what it takes to be a professional goaltender. He makes it clear that he has nothing but gratitude for Sudbury, however, the team who drafted him into the OHL and with whom he had spent the past three seasons. “It was definitely bittersweet. The last three seasons [my family and I] had built amazing relationships with everyone: coaches, teammates, the parents . . . [My parents] were happy for me, though. They saw the struggle in Sudbury. They felt bad; night in and night out I’d try my best, do whatever I can, and some nights it wouldn’t work out. That’s goaltending for you. As soon as they heard the trade, they–like me–saw the opportunity and said, ‘You know, Troy, it’s up to you.’ But they stuck by me.”
On his success with Erie so far, Timpano says, “I’m fortunate to have the guys that I do on this team. They’re amazing. They’re a great hockey team with great coaching–with [Kris] Knoblauch, BJ Adams, and Wes [Wolfe]–so it’s such a well-structured team. Everyone’s been great night in and night out, and the team’s played awesome in front of me. It makes my job a lot easier.”
In the OHL, a league where goaltending is at a premium, the opportunity to play for an Otters team with three-straight fifty-win seasons is a big one. “[The OHL] is the best league to play in if the route you want to go is to play in the National Hockey League. A lot of those years I just did everything I could to get drafted, and I had a good [pre-Draft] year–ended up being taken by Sudbury early [ . . . ] The most important thing as a goalie, especially young, is developing.”
On his developing style over the past seasons, Timpano continues: “I think as I’ve gotten older and I’ve developed, I’ve become more of an aggressive goaltender. I think a lot of it is mental toughness, in goaltending, especially when you get older [ . . . ] I love playing the puck, it’s actually been a big factor in my [game] as I’ve gotten older. The game is so fast, now, you have to help with your defense as much as you can, and they really appreciate it. The less time you spend in your zone, the better.”
It’s been a long time since Timpano was anything but a goaltender; so long ago he barely remembers anything about his days as a player. But he remembers how he started playing one of the most stressful positions in sports: “In house league [. . .] they alternate with the goalies when you’re really young. So equipment is being passed around, and my dad always said, ‘Do not put your hand up. Do not put your hand up. Whatever you do.’” He grins mischievously as he remembers, then laughs. “So he’s untying my skates one day and they ask: ‘Who’s next week’s goalie?’ And I looked at my Dad, who wasn’t paying attention, so I threw up my hand, and [coach] says ‘All right, Troy, you’re in!’ My dad turned around and [said], ‘What did you just do?’”
From that point on, there was no turning back. Timpano was a goaltender, though he said of his first game: “I didn’t like it. We ended up losing badly [. . .] But the next week, the goalie that was supposed to be there didn’t show up, so I had to go in net again. I ended up getting a shutout.”
He started his Otters season with a shutout, too; Now, in his fourth OHL season, Timpano projects to be an important piece in another Otters championship run. With former captains Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome, and defensive centerpiece Travis Dermott, now playing professionally, Erie’s play in the crease will be that much more important in order for the team to be successful.
Timpano doesn’t seem to mind this pressure, however. “It’s working out so far,” he says, his grin permanent.
by Caleb McLaughlin