He wasn’t exactly the most hotly recruited goaltender coming out of the midget AAA hockey ranks.
But the Fort McMurray Oil Barons expressed some definite interest in Tanner Jaillet and the Red Deer product made the most of the opportunity. Jaillet enjoyed a superb 2013-14 Alberta Junior Hockey League season and on Wednesday was honoured as the top junior A netminder in the Canadian Junior Hockey League.
Just three years ago, he wondered if his hockey career would basically end at the midget AAA level, despite helping the Red Deer Optimist Rebels capture the Alberta Midget League title.
“I had an alright last season in midget AAA. We had a good playoff run and won the league,” said Jaillet, who posted a 13-4-1 regular-season record with a 2.87 goals-against average and .896 save percentage as the Rebels starter, then recorded a 9-2-0 playoff slate with a 1.90 GAA and .921 save percentage.
“About two-thirds of the way through the season, Gord (former Oil Barons GM/head coach Thibodeau) and Tom (assistant coach Keca) talked to me. Basically, that was the only junior A team that had interest in me, so after the midget season ended basically my only option was to go to Fort McMurray, and it turned out great.
“They have a great organization and I was able to play for a great coach and played with some great players. It worked out really well I’d say.”
Jaillet, who attended a WHL camp with the Red Deer Rebels in 2010, played behind Brody Hoffman during his rookie season with the Oil Barons, posting a record with a 2.15 GAA and .924 save percentage. When Hoffman accepted a U.S. college scholarship to Vermont, Jaillet moved into the starter’s role for the 2012-13 season and didn’t enjoy the same level of personal success.
“The second season I was there was a bit of a struggle,” said Jaillet. “The season maybe didn’t go as well as I had planned, but I learned lots that year, for sure. I learned to deal with some things.”
And then came the 2013-14 campaign, a dream season of sorts for the 20-year-old, who turned in a 30-8-4 win-loss slate to go along with a 2.01 GAA and sparkling .933 save percentage. The Oil Barons finished second in the North Division and fell to the eventual league champion Spruce Grove Saints in the division final.
“My last season was pretty solid, everything went according to plan and everything worked out well,” said Jaillet, who earned a scholarship to the University of Denver in December and in late February was named AJHL goaltender of the year.
He’ll head to Denver in early June and will spend the summer taking university courses and working out with members of the Pioneers hockey team.
“I’ll use their gym and skate with some of the players. It should be good,” said Jaillet.
Jaillet is confident he’ll contend for a starting job next fall despite his freshman status.
“I should have a chance to step in as a starter and I’m excited about the opportunity,” he said. “It will all depend on how I play and a few other things, but I will get the chance.”
And down the road, his presence — and clearly his performance — with a high-profile NCAA team might open some pro avenues.
“I’ll get an education, which is obviously great, but, yeah, I would like to continue my career as a pro if there are some opportunities there,” he stated.