Draft Prospect Cody Porter ‘Putting The Pieces Together’ In Calgary
It was a season filled with challenges and unexpected turns for 18-year-old Cody Porter, but looking back, he wouldn’t change a single thing.
The first year NHL draft-eligible goaltender played 40 games with his hometown team, the Vancouver Giants, in 2014-15, and was prepared to lead the rebuilding franchise into a new era. After appearing in only two games early in 2015-16, he was traded to the Calgary Hitmen. The move turned out to be the best possible thing for his development.
“There was a lot of uncertainty in Vancouver,” Porter said in an interview with InGoal Magazine. “It was good to go into an organization like Calgary, to get there and play right away. The communication, from the coaches to the players, was great. Everyone knew their role, and what was going to happen in advance of the game. That was big for me.”
This added comfort level allowed Porter to develop at a much quicker pace, in a crucial year leading up to the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. He was in a better personal situation, and the Hitmen were a much stronger team. Higher expectations were placed on his shoulders: He was the starting goaltender for a team in a playoff race.
Adjusting to a new team off the ice is one thing, but adjusting to them on the ice turned out to be an entirely different challenge. The Hitmen played a more wide-open “run and gun” style of play, similar to the NHL’s Dallas Stars. They carried the play most of the time, and gave up fewer shots on goal – but the shots they did give up were usually from high-danger areas.
“It was difficult at times,” Porter recalled. “I’d go 8-10 minutes without a shot, but then I’d face a two-on-one, or a breakaway, or a guy crossing the Royal Road and taking a shot. It was as much of a mental challenge as it was a physical challenge.”
Porter was well aware that his traditional statistics would take a hit due to this style of play, but the internal stats that the Hitmen and goalie coach Darcy Wakaluk kept track of told the true story. Even though he finished with an .885 save percentage, compared to an .888 in the previous season, he knew he was facing an increased rate of high-danger scoring chances. That was crucial for him, because it helped put certain games into better perspective.
“I’d look back at a game where I allowed 3 goals on 25 shots, and I’d feel better about that game than a game where I allowed 1 goal on 30 shots. Even though they may have only had 25 shots in the first game, 11 or 12 of them were from the middle of the ice – but the game where I allowed 1 on 30, there were only about 6 or 7 from the middle of the ice. As soon as I could forget about save percentage and just play the game – it made it a lot easier mentally. If it’s a close game, and you get a late breakaway, you’re expected to make that save. It doesn’t matter if you’ve only had 18 shots.”
The challenges didn’t end there for Porter. Just as he was finally settling into his role with the Hitmen, he sustained a knee injury that knocked him out of the lineup. It turned out to be a grade two tear of the MCL ligament in his right knee. He missed two weeks of action, then returned to play the final two months of the season as well as the playoffs while feeling the lingering effects of the injury.
“I felt like I could play through it. The biggest thing I noticed, was going into the reverse-VH on the post. I felt it a lot there, especially on jam plays. It started getting a little bit better, but then in the last home game of the regular season, I sprained it again. Going into the playoffs I was just a bit banged up, but that happens in a long regular season.”
It was a painful lesson, but one that should help him down the road as he begins to understand how far he can push his body. That’s all part of the developmental process.
On top of dealing with injuries, he also had to deal with the fact that he grew an inch and a half from the start of the season. Suddenly standing at 6-foot-2 and a half, he had to learn how to use his newfound size more effectively. That is not an easy task, but coach Wakuluk made it a point of emphasis as the season wore on.
“I wanted to learn how to play into my frame a bit more,” Porter explained. “I tried to play a more compact style and use my body. I started using my size more effectively on dead-angle shots, rather than reaching for those pucks.”
Every goalie likes to think that they made progress in a year, but Porter is especially passionate in his belief that he is a different player than he was in September – at the beginning of the season. He’s excited about the approaching draft, but knows that he may be a late-round pick because it took him longer to get settled this season.
“[The nerves are] definitely there. I’m trying not to think about it too much. It would be great to be picked, but if I don’t, I just have to look at a guy like Martin Jones – who is a former Calgary Hitmen goaltender. He went undrafted and is doing really well for himself now. He’s also from North Vancouver, where I’m from. I’ll work hard this offseason no matter what happens.”
After the draft is over, things will move quickly. It may seem like a long summer at the outset, but he plans to be on the ice often to continue his development. He will spend time with local Vancouver goaltending coaches Sean Murray and Eli Wilson (his former Giants goalie coach) at different points throughout the offseason.
“As much as last year was a development year for me, I want to take all of the pieces and put them together. We could have 19 returning players next season, so people are expecting us to do well. We have the potential to do special things next season.”