By Dave Eminian
Peoria Journal Star
PEORIA, Ill. – Finding someone to share the goaltending burden with Duane Derksen was the No. 1 priority for the Peoria Rivermen as their first three-game weekend of the season approached.
So the East Coast Hockey League club found a goaltender who was drafted No. 1 (15th overall) by the Ottawa Senators in 1998. In fact, after Mathieu Chouinard couldn’t agree on a contract with Ottawa and returned to junior hockey, the NHL club drafted him again – No. 2 (45th overall) in 2000.
“The second time Ottawa drafted me, I felt it was good because clearly they wanted me,” Chouinard said. “The only bad part was that I didn’t go in the first round again. But that’s behind me. I’ve played at the next level, I know I can play and I just need to get in game shape, see action now.”
Chouinard is stuck in a logjam of five Ottawa goaltending prospects, and was loaned to Team Canada earlier this month for the Deutschland Cup, which he and his teammates won.
The Rivermen, still waiting on Phil Osaer to come down from AHL Worcester in the parent club St. Louis Blues system, jumped at the chance to have the Senators send Chouinard here when he returned from Germany this week. The 6-foot-1, 211-pounder from Laval, Quebec drove 10 hours to report to the Peoria club late Thursday.
“There’s too many guys at the goaltending position and not enough spots to play,” said Chouinard, 22, an All-Star and two-time MVP of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. “I’ve known for a while that I was going to have to come down here and play some games. It’s OK. I’m here to get the process started toward moving back up the Ottawa (depth chart).”
Chouinard was sent to ECHL Mobile for the final month of last season, but never played, suffering a broken knee in practice. It kept him from skating for five months.
He brings big expectations with him to Peoria. Chouinard set a record in the QMJHL – a league known for its offense – by posting a shutout string of 207 minutes, 4 seconds in 1998. The previous year, he led Canada to a gold medal in the Under-18 World Hockey Championships.
In addition to being the QMJHL’s two-time MVP, he went 32-18-3 with a 2.79 goals-against and .906 saves percentage for Shawinigan in 1997-98, then 36-16-4 with a 2.74 and .907 the next year, and closed in 1999-2000 with 59 games, 32 wins and a 3.34 goals-against.
He played 28 games in the IHL with Grand Rapids as a rookie pro in 2000-2001, going 17-7-1 with a 2.64 goals-against and .902 saves percentage, then followed up last season with 25 more outings at AHL Grand Rapids (11-12-1, 2.48).
NHL scouts still think Chouinard could be Ottawa’s goaltender of the future, and former Ottawa general manager Rick Dudley is on record saying: “I really like him because he has a good attitude and he’s big with a lot of strength.”
Scouts say Chouinard is a butterfly goaltender, a smart player who plays the puck well and doesn’t stray from his net.
The player grew up studying Patrick Roy, and for a while shared the same goaltending coach.
“I saw that (ex-Rivermen goaltender) Alfie Michaud was playing for Peoria this year,” Chouinard said. “I know Michaud is a good player because I played against him. So there’s more and more good players coming to the ECHL to play.”