Don Hay has a bit of a worry heading into the Memorial Cup, but it has nothing to do with his fiery goaltender.
Hay, the coach of the Vancouver Giants, had NHL referee Kelly Sutherland at practice on Monday to call penalties during a scrimmage. Why? Because unlike the other major junior leagues, the Western Hockey League did not follow the NHL's path of cracking down on obstruction this season.
One NHL scout said in comparison to the Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the WHL resembled a rodeo.
"It has been a concern, so what we have been doing is looking at the NHL obstruction guidelines video and trying to practise it," Hay said. "We didn't have zero tolerance level but I don't want it to be a distraction or an excuse for us."
Trouble is, Hay won't know how his club responds until it is engaged in its first game tomorrow night against the host Moncton Wildcats.
"When we tried to apply what we saw on the video the first day, it was almost like we stopped hitting," Hay said. "We'll have to see how it goes."
As for his goalie, Hay is sitting on a potential tournament stealer. Dustin Slade has not been drafted by an NHL team, and the Giants are his fourth WHL club. He became known as a volatile hothead who let opposing players get under his skin, and ended last season in tier II. But a trade to Vancouver from the Regina Pats and an invite to the New Jersey Devils' training camp gave Slade a new outlook.
"He had a lot of baggage," Hay said. "We took a chance on him. There was to be accountability and he was on a short leash. He has really matured. I don't think there was any issue about off-ice stuff, it was more about chaos on the ice."
Slade, who had 36 wins and 11 shutouts in the regular season before adding six more shutouts in the playoffs, has been humbled. Working with Giants goaltending consultant and former NHL netminder Bill Ranford helped.
"If you had told me at the time that I was being selfish with some of the things I was doing, I would have told you to beat it," Slade said. "Looking back, this year has been unbelievable from start to finish. I know I had something to prove. I was so shattered to go back to (tier II, where he won a BCHL title with the Surrey Eagles). The past, before this season, was not something I was proud of."