Gillian Kemmerer Gillian Kemmerer
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Eddie Pasquale was sidelined for the first month of the season, but you would not know it from his performance. Lokomotiv’s goaltender leads the league in shutouts (4) and goals against average (1.33), trailing only Traktor’s Ivan Fedotov in save percentage (94.4 to Fedotov’s 94.8). Despite COVID-19 roster changes and a recent dry stretch against tough opponents, Lokomotiv sits third in the competitive Western Conference. Andrei Skabelka’s roster is within striking distance of SKA, and has one of the league’s best netminders to anchor their playoff push.

A 2009 draft pick for the Atlanta Thrashers, Pasquale spent eight seasons primarily in the AHL, with a brief stint for the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2018-19 season. The Toronto native then opted to move his career to the KHL, inking a one-year deal with Barys Nur-Sultan. Alongside head coach Skabelka, Pasquale departed Kazakhstan for Yaroslavl in the summer—a coincidence, he says, but an advantageous one. “[Skabelka] is a lot of structure,” Pasquale told me this week. “Runs more of a defensive team, which helps me out. It makes my job easier.” While Skabelka’s systems took some early adjustment, it appears that the railwaymen are finding their stride.

From the story behind his mask to a league sniper that left an impression, Pasquale gave us a glimpse into his KHL adventures this week.

Gillian Kemmerer (GK): Lokomotiv is third in the Western Conference right now, but it has not been smooth sailing. How would you summarize the season so far?

Eddie Pasquale (EP): We got a new coach this year and a bunch of new players, and it's tough to learn the new systems. Then we got struck with COVID, and a lot of our guys were sick and dealing with that. So we struggled earlier in the year, and then caught a little bit of fire there for a bit and went on a nice roll. Our last little stretch has been tough, but we've also been playing a lot of good teams. The season has been a roller coaster so far.

GK: Not to mention the fact that you were injured for over a month.

EP: Yeah, it was tough. It was one of those injuries that I was trying to skate and play through—but then I'd feel good some days, terrible other days. After talking with the doctors, I knew that it was not going to be crazy long-term, but a fairly long time—a couple of weeks, at least. It was almost a reset, a chance to get away from hockey and clear my mind. Just deal with getting healthy first. Basically I had to stay off the ice and let everything heal the way it needed to. Once I felt good and the doctors cleared me, I ramped up and got ready to join the team again.

GK: We saw a mass migration from Nur-Sultan to Yaroslavl in the post-season—including your head coach, Andrei Skabelka. Coincidence or coup?

EP: No, it was just coincidence. I was negotiating with Lokomotiv, and then maybe a couple of weeks after, I saw they signed Atte [Ohtamaa] who I played with last year, a defenseman for Barys. My agent reps Andre Petersson too, and he signed here. I think it was a freak thing that we all wound up here together.

[Skabelka] doesn't speak much English, but he's a good coach. Like you said, I had him last year in Barys. He's a lot of structure, runs more of a defensive team—which helps me out. It makes my job easier. His systems are really good, and he's a very good coach in this league.

GK: I love hearing about a goaltender’s perception of their own defensemen. Does anyone stand out to you this season?

EP: I think the whole D core, honestly. We have probably eight or nine guys that, whoever's in the lineup, you know they're going to sacrifice, block shots, make smart plays with the puck. And they play for the team. The guys block a ton of shots here. I don't want to name anyone specifically, but they all do a really good job clearing the front of the net, clearing rebounds. So I think that we have a really solid D core.

GK: Many netminders prefer to be under a flurry of shots. Some of the toughest teams in the KHL—CSKA, for example—consistently win games despite being outshot. Have you found that difficult?

EP: Yeah, there was definitely an adjustment period coming over to the KHL last year. In North America, it's more run-and-gun, throw pucks to the net, traffic, and get in the goalie’s head all night. But here, when you play some of those really high-skilled teams like SKA, CSKA, you might get twenty shots if you're lucky, but fifteen of them are Grade A. It’s tough to stay mentally prepared in those games. I've been over here for a year and a half now, so it's something you just have to adjust to over time.

GK: Do any particular snipers stand out?

EP: I don't know if anyone has a crazy shot or anything like that, but obviously I know Vadim Shipachyov on Dynamo, he's a guy that has some serious passing skills. He burns me a little bit. I think he's going to shoot, and he hits a guy wide open, back door.

GK: Tell me about your goalie mask design this season.

EP: Normally, all of my helmets have a country singer on each side. I decide who has the best album out, and then slap some country guys on it. This season, I have Luke Combs and Tim Hicks.

GK: Have any singers reached out to you to say thanks for the endorsement?

EP: I’ve had a couple of them reach out to me before on Instagram, send me messages. One year in St. John’s, Eric Church played at our arena and he signed a big poster for me. I’ve got that at my house back home.

GK: I spent much of the pandemic calling every goalie I could, and asking them a pretty evil question: what was the worst goal you ever let in? Would love to hear yours.

EP: It was probably one in juniors versus Owen Sound. It was an old, dark, brutal arena there. It was a rim around, and it hit a stanchion and went right into the net. We ended up losing 3-2, and that was the game-winning goal. It's one of those things, if you're a goalie who plays the puck, it's going to happen to you. But it just sucks because it was the game-winning goal.

GK: It seems like a superhuman feat to put a tough goal behind you and play on as if nothing happened.

EP: It comes with the position. If you watch the best goalies in the world, whichever one is your favorite, no one gets a shutout every night. You have to understand that you're going to get scored on and erase it. Get ready for the next shot. As a goalie, when you make a mistake, everyone in the rink sees it. It’s harder to get over, but it's part of the game. It comes with being a pro. Whatever time is left in the game, you remember that you’ve got guys in front of you, and it's their job to score goals and to help you out if you make a mistake.

GK: Did you find it hard to adjust to changing ice sizes in the KHL? What other adjustments were you forced to make?

EP: We did training camp for Barys in Kazakhstan on Olympic-sized ice, and then our home rink was NHL ice. I thought it was something that was going to bother me throughout the year, but most of the time, you adjust pretty quickly. Whatever team you're playing, you get there the day before, so you get a practice and a morning skate before the game. You adjust yourself to whatever-sized rink you're going to have. You have enough skates to do it. This year, wherever we go on a road trip, I already know what to expect.

The day-to-day life playing in the KHL was a lot different than in North America. The warm-up before the games, the practices are different. The guys want to score, they don't care about warming up. So it was a little bit of a different style to get used to, and just the day-to-day routine. Once you get the hang of it, it becomes normal.

GK: You’ve migrated from the bustling capital city of Kazakhstan to a fairytale destination on Moscow’s golden ring. How would you compare life in Nur-Sultan versus Yaroslavl?

EP: It’s not as cold here. Kazakhstan was freezing cold with so much snow, but Kazakhstan is a great country. It was a very nice city, Nur-Sultan—all of the brand new buildings, the rink was state-of-the-art, and they treated us very well there. Last year, obviously, we came to Yaroslavl as a road team. You don't have much time to go out or anything like that. You just go to the hotel, go to the rink, move on to the next city. I’ve been living here for a couple of months now, in the base they just built for all of the players. The organization does a great job in how they treat the players here. I had reached out to a couple of guys before I signed, asking how the city was, how was everything. They all said that the base was like staying at the Four Seasons, it's really nice. Everything's there for you. You don't need to go anywhere, and it's a perfect place to play.

GK: What forces conspired to make you a goalie?

EP: Well, I was the youngest. I had all of my cousins, and they just threw me in net to play ball hockey. I think I was six, seven or eight, and my uncle was the coach of our team. We rotated every week who played in net. One week I played and I did well, and they wanted me to go back in—so I stuck with it.

GK: There is a stereotype that most goalies are a special breed. Do you think that’s true?

EP: I’m going to say no, but I'm sure if you asked some of my teammates, they’d say I’m a little bit messed up…

GK: Who were your goalie idols growing up, and did they influence your playing style?

EP: Well, growing up in Toronto, you’re obviously a diehard fan of the Maple Leafs. I grew up watching Ed Belfour, Curtis Joseph. Those are the guys that I watched when I decided to be a full-time goalie. The style that they played compared to now, it's so different. I liked their equipment. Their helmets were pretty cool, and that was probably why I chose goalie.

GK: What is something that you will take from hockey long after your playing days are behind you?

EP: Probably the friendships. The amount of people that you meet in this game…so many different guys and different personalities. If I didn't play in the KHL, I'd probably never have visited Russia. The friendships and the people you meet, and the different ways of life all over the world—I think those are the biggest things I'll take from hockey.

GK: Your last name sounds Italian, so I am wondering if you have some great cooks or fun traditions in the family?

EP: Yeah, I miss my mom's cooking. She's not Italian, but she learned from my dad's mom and the traditions were passed down. You miss not getting the homemade stuff over here. I don't really like pizza. Go to any restaurant, I'll never order pizza, but for some reason—my mom's pizza is unbelievable. I can't eat enough of it.

GK: I know that many imports are still without their families, so how do you keep busy on days off? Do you have any hobbies outside of hockey?

EP: I’ve just been watching TV. I just bought a new iPad because I cracked the screen on my last one, but it's basically just TV shows, YouTube, anything to pass time. Off the ice, I’m a big time fisherman. Anytime I get to go home in the summer, I'll be on my boat, fishing as much as my wife lets me.

GK: What is the biggest fish you've ever caught?

EP: I went to visit my wife's family—she’s from St. John's, Newfoundland. We went fishing in the ocean, and we caught probably twenty-pound cods. That was pretty cool.

GK: Last question. If we were to hit shuffle on your workout playlist, what would pop up right now?

EP: Probably Luke Combs, honestly. Any song by Luke Combs. I don't really listen to rap, so anything country is going to be on my phone. “Houston, We Got a Problem” is probably one of his top songs right now.

Gillian Kemmerer Gillian Kemmerer
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