LEQUILLE, N.S. - The one-timers are rockets. The players are swift. And the passes render the puck a blur.
Welcome to the Q, Cole McLaren.
“At this level you can’t get caught slacking. You have to always be prepared for a shot, always be prepared for a pass that could end up in a rocket one-timer coming right at the net,” the rookie Halifax Mooseheads goaltender hailing from Lequille said in a phone interview Nov. 6.
The former Valley Wildcats netminder is already turning heads in his first season between the pipes as one of two goaltenders selected for the Mooseheads at the close of training camp in August.
McLaren is taking notes from starting Mooseheads goalie Alexis Gravel, and making every minute of ice time count when he’s called to the crease.
“I feel really good so far,” the 18-year-old said.
“I feel like I’ve really settled in.”
McLaren, the son of Jim and Lydia McLaren, first laced up his skates to play hockey at four years old. He started playing out, but had his mind set on goaltending from a young age.
“My dad didn’t want me to play goalie but I eventually wore him down and convinced him to let me,” McLaren recalled with a laugh.
“He was a goalie growing up too, so he knew the stress that came with the position. He always tried to kind of push me away from that but it’s what I wanted to be, so here I am now.”
The promise of more playing time than he would get cycling through shifts for line changes proved too tempting to pass up.
“I like being the X factor in the game. If you’re playing well your team has a good chance of winning… I like the stress the comes with the position,” he said.
“It makes the game more interesting.”
The Annapolis West Education Centre graduate points to his 2017-18 season as the starting goaltender for the Junior A Valley Wildcats as a turning point in his hockey career.
A press release the Wildcats circulated to announce McLaren’s jump to the QMJHL in August states that McLaren logged a .910 save percentage in 37 games with Valley and earned a spot on the MJHL rookie all-star team as a result.
“Cole is a role model for (Annapolis) Valley kids by showing them you can chase your dreams of playing hockey at an elite level while playing right here at home,” said Valley Wildcats general manager Nick Greenough in the prepared statement.
McLaren works hard on – and off – the ice to ensure he’s prepared for every opportunity that arises. He balances hockey with taking part-time courses at Saint Mary’s University.
“It’s very, very busy,” he said.
“We’re at the rink six, seven times a week.”
He’s still adjusting to the fanfare the comes with donning the Mooseheads jersey and playing before an enthusiastic – often ecstatic – hometown crowd in Halifax.
“It’s amazing. It’s just crazy. The atmosphere in that rink is just ridiculous. It’s always so supportive,” he said, noting that it’s not uncommon for children to recognize the players when they’re out in the community.
“We had a presentation and they said whether you like it or not, you’re a celebrity now.”
He admits that if someone would have told him he’d suit up for the Mooseheads after high school a few years ago, he might have laughed it off.
“I didn’t know I’d be here,” he said.
“I was not sure what I was going to do with hockey, where I was going to end up.”
He encourages young hockey players striving to get to the next level to make the most of feedback and continually focus on mastering their craft.
“You just need to take your time, work on your skillset and develop as a player overall,” he said.
“I took three years before I ended up making the team and I think it was perfect for me because I came into the league already at a level where I could compete.”
Did you know?
Cole McLaren received attention from across the globe via social media after making 86 saves for the major midget Valley Wildcats during a game that went into five overtime periods in March 2017: