By Andrew Miller
Of The Post and Courier Staff
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – There’s no more desserts for Maxime Daigneault.
For the last three years, the Washington Capitals have asked Daigneault to lose weight and get into better shape.
Throughout his junior hockey career, Daigneault had seen little reason to lose weight, relying on his natural talent and quickness to dominate opponents. One year at the professional level, however, made it clear to Daigneault that he needed to work on his conditioning.
ìI realized that I wasn’t going to get to the NHL if I wasn’t in great shape,î said Daigneault, who was 11-6-1 with a 3.02 goals-against average last season with the Stingrays. ìYou have to be very fast and very quick to be able to compete in the NHL, and you can’t do that if you’re not in shape.î
So Daigneault hired a personal trainer and got serious about his conditioning.
ìMy trainer made me put on a 20-pound weight,î said Daigneault, who weighed as much as 225 pounds a year ago. ìI went through all the drills, and I could see how slow I was. I knew I had to do something.î
By the start of Washington’s training camp in late September, Daigneault had trimmed down to 200 pounds.
ìI can feel a big difference in my quickness,î Daigneault said. ìI move better. I’m quicker. Last year I let a lot of goals in during the third period, and that was because I wasn’t in shape. The last workout of the summer, my trainer put on that same 20-pound vest again and said, ‘this is what you used to be like.’ There was a big difference.î
South Carolina Stingrays coach Jason Fitzsimmons says the difference is obvious.
ìIf there was a knock on Maxime last year, it was his conditioning,î Fitzsimmons said. ìI know I lost 10 to 15 pounds after my first year in professional hockey and I was twice the player. He took the initiative and got himself into shape this summer. It’s no secret that you’re going to be a better goalie if you’re in better shape and I think Maxime figured that out.î
Daigneault went through a typical rookie season with its typical ups and downs.
ìEveryone goes through an adjustment period during their rookie year,î Fitzsimmons said.
During the Stingrays’ 10-game winning streak last season, Daigneault went 6-0 with a 1.65 goals against average and a .941 save percentage.
ìHe showed everyone what he was capable of doing during that month,î Fitzsimmons said.
In January, the Capitals called Daigneault up to their American Hockey League affiliate in Portland. He remained in the AHL for the rest of the season. Daigneault was solid behind a weak Portland defense, compiling a 3-2-1 mark with a 2.91 goals against average and a .903 save percentage.
ìI think in a lot ways, it’s easier to play in the AHL than the ECHL,î Daigneault said. ìYou don’t have to worry about the rebounds and a lot of scrambling in front of the net.
ìYou just have to worry about the first shot and not giving up rebounds.î
Daigneault got his first taste of the NHL during training camp last month when he played a period against the Buffalo Sabres during an exhibition game. Despite giving up three goals, Daigneault was encouraged by his performance.
ìI was very nervous,î Daigneault said. ìI think I made some very good saves and I let in a couple of goals in that I would like back. It’s the little things you do up there that make the biggest difference. Stick handling is more important up there. I know that’s something that I need to improve upon.î This is a crucial year for Daigneault’s career. Washington goalie Olaf Kolzig is 35 and the depth in the Capitals’ minor league system is limited.
ìMaxime had a very good training camp,î said Washington goalie coach Dave Prior. ìHe had some very good days and some days where I thought he didn’t play as well as he was capable of. I know he made a good impression on the coaching staff both in Hershey and in Washington.
ìHe’s moving up the ladder and I think another season in the ECHL will only help him. It’s the kind of league that exposes weaknesses in your game if you’re a goalie and I think that’s a good thing. The more situations Maxime sees, the better he’s going to be in the long run.î
Daigneault is battling Mike Brown, a fifth-round draft pick of the Boston Bruins, for the Stingrays’ starting job.
ìI think Maxime can be a No. 1 goalie here and at the next level,î Fitzsimmons said. ìI’m really encouraged from what I’ve seen from Maxime during training camp.î