PITTSBURGH — It’s been quite the week for former former Alberta Golden Bears goaltender Zach Sawchenko.
First, he celebrated his 24th birthday on December 30th.
Now, less that a week later, Sawchenko was in between the pipes in an NHL game.
What a way to ring in the New Year.
Against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins, Sawchenko made his NHL debut in net for the San Jose Sharks in relief of starter James Reimer. In two periods of action, Sawchenko made 20 saves on 21 shots, and was named the game’s third star for his efforts.
Sawchenko is the 14th alum of the Golden Bears program, and the first goalie, to make his debut in the NHL.
On Sunday afternoon, the Sharks sent fellow goaltender Adin Hill down to the American Hockey League, leaving Sawchenko as the team’s backup for their Sunday matinee with the Penguins.
After Reimer allowed six goals on 17 shots in the first period, Sharks Head Coach Bob Boughner made a goaltending change during the intermission, putting Sawchenko in net with the hopes of providing his team with a spark.
The change did just that, and the Sharks came storming back on offense while Sawchenko kept the high-octane Penguins offense at bay. Sawchenko saw four pucks come his way in the first five minutes of his NHL debut, the first coming off the stick of Kasper Bjorkqvist just 3:05 into the frame, but he stopped them all.
He settled in rather quickly, and the Sharks started to chip away at Pittsburgh’s lead. After getting one back in the second period, San Jose found the back of the net three times in the first five minutes of the third period to cut the deficit to 6-5, all while Sawchenko kept the Penguins off the scoreboard at the other end.
That was as close as the Sharks would get on the day, as their comeback efforts fell just short in the end. Sawchenko was beaten on the powerplay by Evan Rodrigues at the 17:59 mark of the third period, and the Penguins would add an empty net goal to seal the deal and close out their 8-5 win.
It was a stellar debut for Sawchenko, especially given the circumstances. Coming in with a five-goal deficit is never an easy thing to do, but Sawchenko settled in early and gave the Sharks a chance to win. He was named the game’s Third Star after making 20 saves on 21 shots (.952 save percentage).
Sunday’s appearance was the result of years of hard work and determination for Sawchenko.
The native of Calgary, Alberta has spent the last three seasons between the San Jose Barracuda of the American Hockey League and the Allen Americans of the East Coast Hockey League. In nine games for the Barracuda in 2021-22, Sawchenko put together a 3-6 record with an .859 save percentage.
Prior to beginning his professional career, Sawchenko spent four seasons in the Western Hockey League with the Moose Jaw Warriors, posting a combined record of 88-65-10 while improving his goals against average and save percentage with each passing season.
After his junior career came to a close, Sawchenko committed to the Golden Bears Men’s Hockey program and quickly emerged as one of the best platers in U SPORTS. He racked up 28 total wins over his two-year career to just four losses.
During the 2017-18 season, Sawchenko helped lead the Golden Bears secure their 16th National Championship in program history. Sawchenko put together a record of 12-2-0 during the regular season, posting a .911 save percentage and a 2.12 goals against average.
Sawchenko was named a Tournament All-Star for his efforts. Sawchenko and the Golden Bears finished with a Silver Medal during the 2019 U SPORTS University Cup.
For Sawchenko, plus his family and friends who were watching and supporting from all over, Sunday, January 2nd, 2022 will be a day that everyone won’t soon forget.
Here’s to hoping that it’s a sign of things to come for the 24-year-old as he continues his professional hockey career. He’s definitely earned another opportunity after his stellar debut.
- T. Bennett