“I feel nothing, I hear nothing, my eyes watch the puck, my body moves – like a goalie moves, like I move; I don’t tell it to move or how to move or where, I don’t know it’s moving, I don’t feel it move – yet it moves.”
Ken Dryden may have penned the words, but it’s the current generation of goaltenders that are continuing to live by them.
Victoria Grizzlies goaltender Matthew Galajda’s eyes have glossed over those words – he recently picked up a copy of Dryden’s The Game – and it’s those eyes that have helped take him to the top of the B.C. Hockey League as one of its best goaltenders.
Galajda credits his shot-tracking for allowing his numbers to go from ‘good’ to ‘excellent’ when compared to 2015-16.
“I’m proud of the way I’m able to track the puck and battle and compete in the net,” he says.
The Aurora, Ont. native has seen his goals against average drop to a minuscule 2.14 this season, while his save percentage is now .925.
“He just gives you confidence, especially when you get into tough times in a game and teams are coming on and you’re sort of behind the eight-ball with the speed and battles. He steps it up. It reflects onto our players,” says Grizzlies head coach Craig Didmon.
“Coming from a (defenceman) myself, it just gives you so much more confidence up the ice … if something happens he’ll have your back,” notes captain Cody Van Lierop.
Solid play from a veteran group of defenceman, which includes returnees Van Lierop, Brett Stirling, Jake Stevens and Drayson Pears has also helped Galajda take a step forward. He has a league-leading three shutouts, but he’s faced a modest 24 shots per game in those contests.
“They do a good job clearing bodies in front of the net. I was able to build some chemistry with them last year … they know my tendencies and I think they’ve done a lot better job communicating with me when I have the puck behind the net,” he says.
A difficult to beat group of rearguards and perhaps the best last line of defence in the league have made the Island-leading Grizzlies (18-5-2-3) difficult to score against – the 65 goals they’ve allowed puts them second in the BCHL and gives them a 26-goal advantage over the next best team in their division, the Powell River Kings.
“You know that the other team’s got to be pretty darned good to score more than one on him in a game,” says Didmon.
On occasions where he’s had more work, such as a 44-save effort in a 5-2 road win over the Kings on Nov. 11, Galajda has stood his ground and repeatedly given the Grizzlies a chance to skate away with two points.
“He’s a battler,” Didmon says. “He’s got a real will to win … he’s a real student for the game.”
Aside from his work with the Grizzlies, Galajda’s had what can safely be described as a whirlwind fall. Shortly before the season started, the 19 year old committed to Cornell University – Dryden’s alma mater – for next September.
Last week, Galajda was one of two BCHL goaltenders chosen for Canada West’s tryout camp, taking place in Leduc, Alta. from Dec. 5 to 8. If he’s successful there, he’ll earn a place in the World Junior A Challenge, which features two Canadian teams and four international teams and takes place in Bonnyville, Alta. later this month.
Off the ice, Galajda enjoys reading, a fitting hobby for a “calm guy” who “likes to do his own thing” according to Van Lierop. And Dryden’s book provided the young goaltender with plenty of insights into how to handle being a goalie.
“He definitely gave a lot of good tips; just be in the moment, stay in the moment and just enjoy it, because you can’t always play hockey,” he says. While he looks up to Florida Panthers goalie and former Canuck, Roberto Luongo, it’ll be Dryden’s hockey path that Galajda will hope to emulate.
Playing for an Ivy League school with a history of producing NHL talent – Joe Nieuwendyk and former Victoria Salsa defenceman Ryan O’Byrne are also Big Red alumni – should certainly help him catch the eye of NHL scouts.
“I’m going to pursue hockey until I can’t anymore,” he says. “I’ve got four years to prove myself (at Cornell) and it’s definitely going to be a roller coaster at times but … in the end I want to play in the NHL and if I have a good four years I’ll have an opportunity to sign a contract.”
While he’s known as a quiet guy around the locker room, he’s bursting with the kind of confidence that’s needed to play the position professionally.
When Didmon called Galajda in May 2015 to inform him that returning goaltender Sean Cleary had accepted an NCAA scholarship, Galajda, who was still months away from making his first BCHL appearance, told his coach he had already “planned on being the starter by October.”
“He’s always looking ahead and he’s got a ton of confidence in himself,” Didmon says.
Whether his talent, and confidence, can bring him to the sport’s highest level will be a chapter for another day.
For now, one thing about Galajda is clear; his talent has the Grizzlies on track for their first division title in three seasons and that’s plain to see through the eyes of any beholder.