BY DAN MCNEE
ERIE, PA – One of the most important traits a backup goaltender must possess is patience.
Over three partial Ontario Hockey League seasons, Daniel Dekoning got into the odd game with the Erie Otters, but that first major junior win still eluded him. That is, until Saturday, Oct. 11.
The Listowel native made 34 saves as his Otters topped the Kitchener Rangers 5-4 in a shootout. It was Dekoning’s first action of the 2014-15 season, after being named the club’s full-time backup goaltender following training camp.
“I felt great going in, but I must admit that I was also pretty nervous in that game,” said Dekoning. “I just tried to keep my composure. We got a couple goals in the shootout and we got the win.”
Following those shootout goals from Connor McDavid and Mason Marchment, Dekoning stopped Brent Pedersen on Kitchener’s final attempt to give Erie the victory.
“He had a great game,” said Daniel’s father, Bill Dekoning, who travelled down to Erie, Pennsylvania on short notice to witness his son’s first OHL win. “You always wonder if he can compete at that level, and so far so good.”
The Otters currently sit atop the Western Conference with an 8-0-1 record.
“It’s a great team to play behind and I just have to be ready for every start I get,” said Dekoning.
The Otters are led by the current consensus No. 1 2015 NHL-draft eligible player in McDavid, who has already put up a whopping eight goals and 17 assists through nine games in 2014-15. The top-line centre and captain of the Otters, McDavid has compiled 190 points in 128 OHL regular season games ever since entering the league as a 15-year-old under Exceptional Player status in 2012.
“He’s a great guy on and off the ice,” said Dekoning of McDavid. “He’s not the most talkative, but he leads by example.”
With his first OHL win under his belt, Dekoning didn’t have to wait long for his second.
The 18-year-old made 32 saves in a 3-2 win over the Sudbury Wolves on Oct. 17, in a game where the Otters were outshot 34-26. Dekoning held strong despite furious pressure from Sudbury in the third period, stopping 17 shots in the frame.
Behind No. 1 goaltender Devin Williams, Dekoning now has a respectable 2.88 goals against average and a .917 save percentage this season.
“I’ve worked very hard in practice,” said Dekoning. “I have to be ready to not just be Devin Williams’ backup, but also ready to try and take that No. 1 spot if I can.”
Dekoning – an eighth round pick in the 2012 OHL Priority Selection – had been called up periodically to Erie since the 2012-13 season but never saw significant playing time because of his position on the depth chart.
He primarily served as a netminder for his hometown Listowel Junior Cyclones the past two years; first serving as an understudy to Drew Reinhardt in 2012-13 before earning the No. 1 job in 2013-14. Over those two campaigns (including one game played in 2011-12 as a call-up), Dekoning compiled a 16-17-7 regular season record with a 3.73 GAA and a .899 save percentage.