It’s been quite a whirlwind few weeks for newest New Westminster junior A Salmonbellies netminder Kyle Hebert.
There have been ups and downs amid the usual adjustments. On Sunday he experienced a rarity – for him – when the Langley Thunder coaches asked the on-floor officials to do an equipment measurement on Hebert’s shoulder pads in the third period of the final game of B.C. Junior A Lacrosse League regular season.
In a contest where Hebert faced 64 shots, he took the unsuccessful question of his equipment’s legality in stride.
“I wasn’t really worried. I’ve never been called on anything, I don’t really have any illegal equipment that I know of,” said Hebert. “It’s a weird situation and a first (for me). I’m pretty small so it’s not often I get asked on being too big. They just looked over my shoulder pads and how they contour to my body.”
Perhaps because he played so big, turning back 43 shots over the first 40 minutes alone, that the opposition felt it had to use its last card – which resulted in a delay of game penalty tagged to their record.
With the playoffs set to begin Saturday in Victoria, getting that final game out of the way and allowing everyone to turn their attention to the most serious task was a considerable relief.
For the New West netminder, having a strong game was just the boost he was working towards.
Hebert has been in town only since late June, starting all six games after the club cut ties with fellow Ontario product Brayden Bell. After stopping 31 of 35 shots in his debut against Burnaby, the 21-year-old has had moments where he struggled for consistency, although no one could pin the team’s 2-2 record on him. Those losses were against Coquitlam and Victoria, the top-two teams in the league, after all.
Getting into a comfortable routine has taken some time but Hebert believes Sunday’s showing was the sign that everything’s on course.
“It’s just a little learning curve. I haven’t played my best since I got here but this was definitely my best game,” he said. “I felt more comfortable. I felt good that first game (against Burnaby) but I think the competition was a little stronger tonight. It felt good to play a really good game against a good team.”
Coach Rich Catton was excited about the overall team performance, and noted Hebert was the obvious choice as defensive player of the game against the Thunder.
“Herbert was fantastic,” remarked the coach.
Will Malcom, who as a second-year player just locked up the league scoring title, says the goalie is a big piece to the puzzle in a hoped-for Minto Cup march.
"He’s slowly getting into the groove every game," said Malcom. "He’s getting better and he’s a huge addition to our team."
A native of Burlington, Ont., Hebert played with the Oakville Buzz prior to the deal that brought him west and was considered one of the top goalies of the Ontario circuit. A goalkeeper at Stony Brook College, he knew a few New West players coming in – having played with Tre Leclaire with the national under-19 team a few years ago and with Cam Garlin at Hill Academy.
He says while opposing shooters in B.C. are unknown quantities for him, it’s a two-way street.
“I don’t know any of the shooters and they don’t know me. … It just took some time to settle in. Just getting in to a pattern, a daily routine and that’s finally settled.”
The next obstacle before they can chase a Minto Cup is Victoria, who New West plays in a best-of-seven semifinal beginning on the Island. Game 2 sees the two meet Sunday, 4 p.m. at Queen’s Park Arena. Having played the Shamrocks just two weeks ago adds some familiarity, while also a refreshing opportunity to exact some revenge.
It won’t be easy, however.
“It wasn’t my best game but that may be an advantage for us. They haven’t seen us at our best and we’re going to go in hard and hopefully pull out a win,” said Hebert.
The series continues the following weekend, with Game 3 on July 20 in Victoria, and Game 4 in New West on July 21; Games 5 and 6 (the latter at Queen’s Park) would go July 27 and 28. All games start at 4 p.m.