Vaughn CHL Goalie of Week Interview: Alex Nedeljkovic
Nedeljkovic stopped 66 of 69 shots for the sizzling Whalers, starting with 25 saves and First Star honours in a 7-1 win over Niagara on Thursday, and continuing with 17 stops in a 7-2 win over Erie Friday, before wrapping up with 24 saves, the Third Star nod, and his second career shutout in a 5-0 win over Mississauga on Sunday.
The 17-year-old from Parma, Ohio improved to 17-2-1-1 with a 2.11 goals-against average and .928 save percentage in his first season with the Whalers. Not eligible for the NHL Draft until 2014, Nedeljkovic came into his rookie season just hoping to gain some experience and maybe push for playing time next year. Instead he is pushing incumbent Matt Mahalak, a sixth-round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2011, for starts now. Listening to Nedeljkovic, it’s easy to understand who.
Mature beyond 17, Nedeljkovic takes his craft seriously, from off-ice reading to help his mental game, to the on-ice work he’s put in with Plymouth goalie coach Stan Matwijiw, whether with the Whalers or in the summer at his Bandits Goalie Schools.
InGoal had a chance to catch up with Nedeljkovic not long after he won his fourth-straight start on Tuesday:
~ So how did the last week feel, was there anything different, anything that let you know you’d be so locked in?
Nedeljkovic: “Last week wasn’t a normal week. We were actually kind of kicked out, for lack of a better word, from our normal rink because there was national figure skating going on, so we practiced in another local rink and it was kind of like midget hockey again, taking your stuff home from the rink with you. The coach told me Wednesday that I would be playing Thursday night in Niagara, and that got me in the zone and I started to prepare myself the day before the game, like always, and when we left Thursday mognring the bus ride all the way up to Niagara was all serious, all business, everything was in the zone.”
~ How to do you go about preparing for a game?
Nedeljkovic: “The Day before I just try to relax, and get a good meal in me, some pasta and chicken the night before the game, getting to bed early, not staying out too late, not doing anything too crazy. The day of the game, that’s when it starts getting serious. Sometimes I have to go to school because I am in high school still and it’s a little different, but days I am out of school it is usually from the time I get up, to the time the puck drops, everything is business. I usually listen to my iPod or read a book, just anything to keep my mind set on one certain thing so it’s not all over the place.”
~ Are you trying to keep your mind off game, or just focused on one thing and not wandering?
Nedeljkovic: “Focused on one thing, whether it’s on the game or on something else before the game actually starts. During the game everything has to be focused on the game, obviously, but I feel before the game for me it just kind of helps to focus on one thing, no matter what that would be, and then come game time I can focus on the game. Your mind can definitely wander, all it takes is a fraction of a second and in that time anything can happen.”
~ It sounds like you have a good handle on the mental side of game. Does that just come with experience, or is it something you consciously work to improve?
Nedeljkovic: “Experience definitely helps out with the mental side of the game but something I have used a few years now is a book called Mind Gym. I have read that maybe three or four times now and every time I read different pieces or parts of it, just to get my mental game in shape and focus on something. That’s defintley been one of the biggest tools I have used to get myself mentally prepared for games and make myself better mentally.”
~ Can you describe your style for us?
Nedeljkovic: “I would say my game it pretty simple. I would describe myself as kind of a hybrid goalie. I just try to make the easy saves whenever I can and then when my team needs me too, I make the hard saves. But I try not to make my job harder than what it is and that is just stopping the puck. I have to do that whatever way I can, whether that’s diving across the net or just getting in front of a shot I gotta do what I gotta do to stop the puck and guys in front of me make my job a lot easier, boxing out so I can see the puck, blocking shots, or taking backdoor passes away so I can focus on the shot.”
~ Is there a comparable in the NHL you model yourself after at all?
Nedeljkovic: “I’ve been aksed that before, so now that I’ve thought about it more I would say I probably model my game after a Marc-Andre Fleury, or maybe even a little but of Jonathan Quick, a slight mixture of the two.
~ So not every save has to be a prototypical butterfly save? You’re willing to mix in a half-butterfly and other saves?
Nedeljkovic: “That sounds about right. Whatever you have to do, whether it’s a nice technical save or you are on your back and you have to throw a leg out to get a piece of the puck, whatever you have to do to make the save.”
~ Has your game had to change from midget to the OHL?
Nedeljkovic: “Last year I wasn’t as aggressive as I am this year in terms of challenging the shooter and where he is on the ice. I felt last year I played a little deeper than I am this year, but with the guys I am playing against now, and how good they can shoot the puck and how fast, you have to take that extra step and be able to take that away much quicker. And it’s also a bit of experience. Practicing every day definitely helps a lot because that pushes me to get that technical part of my game that much better and improve other areas of my game, like when to freeze the puck, when to play the puck, where to put rebounds and how to control the play. So it’s definitely a combination of experience and changing a few little things in my game.
“The adjustments started with Stan at the Bandits camps. I’ve done it for two years now and I will be doing it again. The first year I did it was going into my midget minor year and that was kind of the turning point to where my game is now, because that was the basics to what I am doing now. That year was more just technically improving my game. What save selceton at different times and where to be in the crease depending on where guys are at, and being aware of my surroundings and where guys are. It was a kick in the butt as to what was going to be coming up the next few years as you rise in the level of play, with guys shooting the puck from anywhere and so more being aware and knowing what to do in every situation.”
~ What kind of goalie coaching had you received growing up in Parma, Ohio?
Nedeljkovic: “Coming from the city I was playing in, there wasn’t a lot of hockey, not a lot of people followed hockey or played hockey, so there weren’t too many goalie coaches. But the one goalie coach was my neighbour – Jim Keserich, who was the goalie coach for the Cleveland Barons (for 10 years). He was my first goalie coach and he would help me out when I was younger, I would be on the ice with him and he would come out to practices sometimes. Other than Jim I never really had a specific goalie coach that could work with on a day-to-day basis, but over summer I would do goalie camps. I went to John Elkin in Toronto for five or six years.”
~ Were you confident what you’d worked on would translate so fast in the OHL, or have you exceeded your own expectations?
Nedeljkovic: “I came into the season not expecting to play as much as I have played now. My goals going into the season were to pick up some experience, maybe play a few games here or there before the end of the sesason, try and take everything in and then towards the end of the season try and fight for maybe a little more playing time and get focussed for my second year and try to maybe even become a starting goalie for my second year. Things have turned out a little differently but that doesn’t change what I am expecting myself to do and still compete as hard as I was at the beginning of the year.”
~ How aware are you of the strong goaltending history in Plymouth, with guys like Jason Bacashihua, Jeremy Smith, Michal Neuvirth, Matt Hackett and Scott Wedgewood?
Nedeljkovic: “I am pretty aware, guys like Neuvirth and Hackett and Wedgewood last year. Working with Stan, he has told me a lot about guys and what they have done and how they have worked and excelled and been able to take that next step to becoming a pro goaltender or an NHL goaltemder. I definitely try to take as much as I can from Stan and guys that have come through the system.”
~ Any example that sticks out and you can share?
Nedeljkovic: “One thing that jumps out at me is that it’s not about what you did yesterday or the day before, but it’s about what you can do for somebody today and the next day and moving forward. Because if you can’t consistently produce good results, then you won’t be able to make it very far.”
It’s early, and he’ll be the first to say you can’t project too far ahead anyways, but with that combination of attitude and skill, it seems a safe bet this won’t be the last award or honour Nedeljkovic collects.
Or the only time we hear his name.
Also considered for the Vaughn CHL Goalie of the Week award was Louis-Philip Guindon of the Drummondville Voltigeurs who was 3-0-0-0 with a shutout, a goals-against-average of 1.94 and a save percentage of .932. In the WHL, Cole Cheveldave of the Kamloops Blazers also went 3-0-0-0 with a shutout victory while posting a 1.00 goals-against-average and .962 save percentage.
Past 2012-13 Vaughn CHL Goaltenders of the Week:
Feb. 18 – Feb. 24: Malcolm Subban, Belleville Bulls
Feb. 11 – Feb. 17: Zachary Fucale, Halifax Mooseheads
Feb. 4 – Feb. 10: Brandon Whitney, Victoriaville Tigres
Jan. 28 – Feb. 3: Andrey Makarov, Saskatoon Blades
Jan. 21 – Jan. 27: Alex Dubeau, Moncton Wildcats
Past 2012-13 Vaughn CHL Goaltenders of the Week:
Jan. 14 – Jan. 20: Cam Lanigan, Medicine Hat Tigers
Jan. 7 – Jan. 13: Matt Murray, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Dec. 31 – Jan. 6: Christopher Gibson, Chicoutimi Sagueneens
Dec. 24 – Dec. 30: Austin Lotz, Everett Silvertips
Dec. 10 – Dec. 16: Brett Zarowny, Prince George Cougars
Dec. 3 – Dec. 9: JP Anderson, Sarnia Sting
Nov. 26 – Dec. 2: Kevin Bailie, London Knights
Nov. 19 – Nov. 25: Patrik Bartosak, Red Deer Rebels
Nov. 12 – Nov. 18: Mackenzie Skapski, Kootenay Ice
Nov. 5 – Nov. 11 : Mac Carruth, Portland Winterhawks
Oct. 29 – Nov. 4 : Philippe Cadorette, Baie-Comeau Drakkar
Oct. 22 – Oct. 28 : Michael Giugovaz, Peterborough Petes (read the InGoal interview here)
Oct. 15 – Oct. 21 : Jordon Cooke, Kelowna Rockets
Oct. 8 – Oct. 14 : Mac Carruth, Portland Winterhawks
Oct. 1 – Oct. 7 : Eetu Laurikainen, Swift Current Broncos
Sept. 24 – Sept. 30 : Sébastien Auger, Saint John Sea Dogs
Sept. 20 – Sept. 23 : John Gibson, Kitchener Rangers