~ Article by Jamie Neugebauer, Image courtesy Outer Edge Imagery
It has been seven years since Yorkton’ Kale Thomson was the last goaltender to claim sole Rookie of the Year honours in the Saskatchewan Junior League*, but it might very well be that 2021-2022 will see another Terrier do likewise.
Kael DePape, a 2003-birth year, has been nothing short of spectacular all season so far, posting a league-second-best goals-against-average of 2.04, and a second-best save percentage of .926 and surrounded in those categories by the premium 20-year-olds common to the SJHL.
Yet if the rookie DePape’s immediate success has seemingly come out of nowhere to some, his long-time goalie coach Travis Harrington is not surprised in the slightest.
“He is an extremely hard-working kid on and off the ice, and comes from a real quality family,” Harrington says.
“The thing that I can describe about him best is that he has always had this ability to close out games and perform well under pressure. Even back in his really young years, he won league championships 1-0 in overtime. He’s worked hard on his craft, and he’s super coachable.”
Listed at 5-foot-11, and 165-pounds, DePape uses his athleticism and compete-level to make for what might be perceived as a lack of size, and while other rookie netminders around the league have occasionally struggled with the heavy load that comes with being an SJHL No. 1, his focus and performance has never slacked.
“Any NCAA or University team that really examines his game closely would find that he is going to be successful at any level he plays,” the veteran goaltending coach Harrington says.
“He has a really strong mental make-up and he has a drive to just keep improving – he’s not scared to venture things into what might make him uncomfortable, and keeps making himself better.”
A native of Yorkton, DePape plied his trade for his hometown Maulers U18 AAAs, and while team success eluded his club in his time there, his tenacity and willingness to apply himself by seeking out opportunity – going so far as to push and get in touch with Terriers’ coach and GM Matt Hehr himself – stood him in good stead to get the opportunity he presently has.
A very successful stint in the Covid-shortened 2019-2020 campaign with the dominant Moose Jaw Warriors U18s proved his worth, and there is now little doubt he’s been the best young goaltender in the SJHL so far this campaign.
“He is very mobile, he has spent a lot of time working on his mobility,” Harrington adds, “and that has helped him translate to the SJHL level. He plays a very clean game, is very positionally sound and rarely gives up bad rebounds. His puck handling is very underrated, and he plays a game much bigger than his frame.”
DePape has won 14 of Yorkton’s 16 games so far this season and is a huge factor for how the Terriers have climbed the standings up to sixth in the league from where they sat early in the year far out of the playoff picture.
* Humboldt Broncos’ goaltender Jacob Wassermann was awarded the co-Rookie of the Year award with Weyburn Red Wings’ forward Cade Kowalski in 2017-18