Soft Mitts, Heavy Hits was a blog that I was incredibly proud of, co-authored by two wonderful friends. While that site is no longer available, I wanted my work from there to be preserved somehow. I will be reposting a few of my 2013 articles here and backdating them so I can revisit them whenever I want!
There’s been a lot of talk about the CHL’s so-called goalie crisis, but the fact of the matter is that in a 22-team junior league like the WHL, there just might not be enough franchise goalies to go around. That’s what makes Ty Rimmer such an interesting case. In a league where above-average goalies come at a premium, you’d think that a gifted and highly athletic goaltender would be able to find a team to call home at some point over a four-year WHL career. However, despite boasting a .910 career SV%, Ty Rimmer played for four teams–one in each division–and never stayed with any of them for longer than one season.
There’s a possibility that Rimmer has gotten used to, and may even be comfortable with being–in hockey terms–a suitcase. He’s already spent time with three different teams since his WHL career ended in March, including his professional debut with the AHL’s Manchester Monarchs and development camp with the Dallas Stars. But after a strong training camp with the Edmonton Oilers, it looks like Rimmer’s luck could change. The Oilers signed him to a minor league deal with the Oklahoma City Barons on September 16th, giving him the opportunity to prove himself at the pro level. Rimmer is a native Edmontonian who grew up cheering for the Oilers–and even unknowingly joined in on the Battle of Alberta when he squared off against the future goaltender for the Calgary Flames, Laurent Brossoit, in his first career fight–but those aren’t the only reasons why he might prove to be a good fit for the Oilers in the future.
The Oilers’ recent history does not show a lot of success in developing goaltending prospects. Devan Dubnyk is a great story, but was drafted nearly a decade ago; it’s time for some new blood. It’s premature to give up on the Oilers’ current prospects, and at the moment, Rimmer is an AHL prospect at best, but there’s a strong implication that the Oilers are looking at him beyond the immediate future. The Oilers are trying to build a winning tradition throughout the organization, and have brought in many players who have tasted success at both the junior and NHL levels, but Rimmer’s experience with both team success and failure might help bring a different perspective between the pipes.
Rimmer’s journey through his WHL career was not typical of what one would consider an elite goaltender. After just five appearances with the team that drafted him, the Brandon Wheat Kings, Rimmer was thrust into his first starter’s role with the struggling Prince George Cougars, just barely making the playoffs in the Western Conference before being swept out of the first round. He had a breakout season as a 19-year-old with the Tri-City Americans the following year, where he finished with a 2.43 GAA, .922 SV% and 5 shutouts–a league best in all three categories–but with prodigal goalie-of-the-future Eric Comrie nipping at his heels, he was moved to Lethbridge in the off-season to finish his career with the rebuilding Hurricanes.
Rimmer appeared in all but seven games for Lethbridge, leading the league in minutes played, and seemed to be left alone on many nights, eventually also leading the league in saves by almost 250. One of the clearest memories of Rimmer’s experience with the Hurricanes last year is an early-season matchup against the then-defending league champion Edmonton Oil Kings. Rimmer faced a constant barrage of shots in the penalty-laden affair, with the Oil Kings reaching an average of 20 in each frame. Despite the workload, he was the last man off the ice after every period, making sure to pat each of his winded teammates on the back as they filed past while he graciously accepted the standing ovation given to him from his new home crowd. Rimmer made 57 saves that game, but the Hurricanes still lost 3-0. In a way, it was a microcosm for what would be a turbulent season in Lethbridge that ended with their 4th straight year of missing the playoffs and the dismissal of Head Coach and GM Ron Preston. Rimmer was one of the lone bright spots, managing a .912 SV% and 3.19 GAA and never tiring despite his exorbitant workload.
It may very well have been Rimmer’s experience with a struggling, rebuilding team in Lethbridge that saw him outlast highly touted Oilers goaltending prospects Olivier Roy and Tyler Bunz at main camp earlier this month. The Oilers team at the Young Stars tournament in Penticton struggled mightily to find their groove, and that continued into the game against the University of Alberta Golden Bears, where Rimmer saw his first action (splitting time with Bunz). The Oilers lost that game too, but Rimmer impressed with a 15-save shutout performance in his half, leading many to believe that he might have a legitimate shot of earning a professional contract–which he did, after a solid pre-season appearance against the Vancouver Canucks a couple of weeks later.
Rimmer’s experiences have seen him develop a level of mental toughness that many goaltenders lack, which may have given him the edge on Roy and Bunz, both NHL draft picks who have struggled in their pro careers thus far. Rimmer doesn’t have the natural talent that those two have, but is heralded for his competitive fire and mental toughness, and has also shown an ability to succeed in spite of having virtually zero support. That might give him an advantage in transitioning to the pro game–especially in the Oilers organization–where minor league goalies often have inexperienced teams in front of them and little to no contact with goaltending coaches.
It’s worth mentioning that Rimmer’s constant changes in scenery–including the move from a perennial contender in Tri-Cities to a Lethbridge team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2009–aren’t the only adversity he’s faced in his career thus far: drafted in the 14th round, 303rd overall in the 2007 Bantam draft, Rimmer was likely never expected to play in the WHL, let alone go on to play pro hockey and challenge for an NHL position. In his NHL draft year, he only appeared in one WHL game, in which he was lit up for seven goals against on 28 shots. Even in his best year, when he led the league in almost every major statistical category, he lost out on a WHL Goaltender of the Year nod to none other than Tyler Bunz. He also stands just six feet tall, dwarfed by the average of today’s NHL goaltenders.
It’s often said that adversity builds character. “Character” is notoriously high on the list of attributes that the Oilers favour in their players. There’s a significantly different mindset between players who have had to prove their supporters right and those who have had to prove the naysayers wrong; Rimmer is definitely the latter. He still has a lot to prove, but it’s not a stretch to view this as a “Show Me” contract, and a good first year adjustment to pro hockey could see him earn an NHL deal.
For now, it’s just a minor league contract with the Oilers affiliates–but if it’s up to Rimmer? Don’t count him out.