Rode

RODE: Central Alberta’s Scott Ratzlaff born to be a goalie

Scott Ratzlaff was born to be a goalie … or at least he feels that way.

“Ever since I thought about playing hockey I wanted to be a goalie,” said the 17-year-old from Irma, who has been spectacular for Team Canada at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup at the Peavy Mart Centrium.

“I was fascinated by it … the position and liked the gear and the role a goalie played with a team.”

As a youngster he played out, but “around the age of six or seven” picked up the pads and never looked back.

He played his early days in Irma, a town of about 500 people, before moving on to develop his game.

He played first-year bantam in Camrose with the Red Wings under head coach Darryl Gagnon, who Scott credits for much of his early development.

“That was definitely a stepping stone for me,” he said. “I really looked up to Darryl … he played a crucial role in my development to be where I am today.”

The following season Scott joined the Lloydminster U15AAA squad where he put together a 2.41 goals-against-average and a .899 save percentage which caught the eye of the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League.

“I was a bit surprised they took me,” he said. “I had talked with a couple teams but didn’t hear a lot, but it’s worked out. Seattle is a great organization and I was stoked to go there.”

Scott was slated to play his first year of Minor Midget with the Northern Alberta Xtreme, but Covid spoiled most of that year.

“We played one game,” he said. “We did get a lot of practice time and we bonded well.”

What he did do was get his first taste of WHL action.

“Midway through the season Thomas Milic was called up to play in this tournament and they called me up to backup Jackson Berry,” Ratzlaff explained. “It was a great learning experience. Gave me a chance to know the ropes and see what I had to learn to play at that high level. I was fortunate to get that opportunity.”

He saw action in three games, posting a solid 2.98 gaa and .867 save percentage and had a 1-0-0 record.

It set the stage for his return this season where he started in 22 games behind Milic. He had an impressive 2,.48 gaa and .904 save percentage and put together a 17-2-1 record.

“It was a great season, The coaches gave me every opportunity to succeed and I went with it,” he said. “No matter what I try to keep my head down and work as hard as I can as nothing is given to you.

“It doesn’t matter if I have a good game or a bad game I have to keep a level head and go on to the next play or next game.”

That attitude took him to the No. 1 position with Team Canada.

Head coach Stephane Julien liked what he saw from the central Alberta youngster from the start.

“I started scouting him a couple months ago and watched him play a bit,” said Julien. “I heard good things about him. He’s a smart kid who gets along with everybody, likes to compete and pays attention to the details of the game.

“The first day of training camp he showed he wanted to be the No. 1 and no doubt he’s a No, 1. No goals in three games at this level is something special.”

Scott came in midway through a 6-0 win over Finland in exhibition play then backstopped the Canadians to a 14-0 win over Switzerland and 3-0 over Sweden.

He came up with several outstanding saves in the Swedish game which gave Canada top spot in Pool A and a semifinal berth Friday at 5 p.m. against Finland.

The Switzerland game wasn’t easy to stay involved in.

“But you have to,” he said. “I have a couple of ways to keep in the game, including narrating the play … you always have to be ready.”

Scott knows a thing or two about playing top competition having played as a 16-year-old in the Capital City Challenge which included the Team Canada women’s squad.

“They are highly skilled, great to play against,” he said. “It’s amazing how crisp their passing was … you really had to stay focused.”

The six-foot-one, 175-pound Ratzlaff felt he had a good shot at making the Canadian team and is excited to have it in central Alberta.

“When I heard it was in Red Deer I was excited to get to play in front of friends and family. The fans here are great. Lots of enthusiasm, I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

He even enjoys showing his talents off to the overabundance to scouts and NHL GMs and coaches in the stands.

“I try not to focus on the outside pressure,” he said. “I try to put that aside and concentrate on what’s happening on the ice.”

Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at danrode@shaw.ca

junior hockey