Raftis believes Schenkel will be ‘elite’
by Peter Ruicci (Independent Media) | Photo by Bob Davies
Competitive people do competitive things at competitive times.
The 2023-2024 Soo Greyhounds are expecting nothing less from Charlie Schenkel.
“He’s ready to take that next step and be an elite goalie in this league,” general manager Kyle Raftis said of the 19-year-old (2004 birth year) Schenkel. “How many of the teams in this league have an elite 19-year-old goaltender? I think we’re one of them.”
“He’s a guy who’ll help us win so many games this year,” added winger Justin Cloutier, who’ll begin his third Ontario Hockey League season on Friday, when the Hounds entertain the Flint Firebirds in a 7:07 p.m. start at Essar Centre. “I absolutely think he’s going to have a big season. I think he’s one of the biggest factors for our team.”
While praise from management and teammates is always nice to hear, Schenkel, an Ottawa native taken in the fifth round (No. 91 overall) of the 2020 OHL draft, says he’s focused strictly on team goals.
“I don’t care about personal accolades,” he said. “I just want to help my team win as many games as possible.”
That objective was sidetracked a season ago when Schenkel suffered a devilish injury to his right wrist in late November. It wound up costing him 23 games.
It cost the Greyhounds much more.
“We didn’t realize just how much he was covering up,” Raftis said, while looking back. “Charlie had kept us in a lot of overtime games and shootout games. He had a calming presence back there and he was just starting to scratch the surface before he got injured.”
On Nov. 25, Schenkel stopped all 35 shots he faced as the Greyhounds secured a 4-0 victory in Mississauga. But the good feeling was short-lived.
Two nights later, at FirstOntario Centre in Hamilton, Schenkel was taking shots in pregame warmups when he “was hit in a weird place.”
The six-foot-five, 207-pounder initially didn’t realize the severity of the injury.
“My hand was kind of twitching, but I didn’t think it was broken. I just thought it was a bad bruise,” recalled Schenkel, who was scratched as the Hounds starter.
In his absence, Hamilton went on to post a 10-6 victory.
Diagnosed with a fractured wrist, the Soo’s No. 1 netminder was sidelined until Feb. 5.
“It was just kind of annoying, but I had to let it heal,” Schenkel said during a recent conversation. “It was tough missing games, but out of any injury, a wrist is probably the best-case scenario. It could have been a lot worse.”
Asked if there was any bitter feeling attached to an injury that may have kept Schenkel from becoming an NHL draft choice, the netminder said no.
“I feel as if everything happens for a reason. I just have to keep moving on and working hard,” Schenkel said just prior to leaving, as an invited player, for the recent Ottawa Senators rookie camp. “I feel that as long as you stick with it, everything will work out.”
At the time he was injured, Schenkel had appeared in 14 games, with two shutouts and a goals against average of 3.00, tied for sixth among OHL goalies. His saves percentage of .912 was second in the league.
But returning about 10 weeks later, Schenkel displayed the expected rust.
“He was really coming into his own in terms of confidence,” Raftis said. “But by the time he got back, there wasn’t enough time for him to get back into it.”
At season’s end, Schenkel had finished with a 3.49 g.a.a. and a saves percentage of .894 in 31 games. Over the summer, he was determined to fine-tune his game. Schenkel feels his skating is much better than it was a season ago.
His ability to read plays, he believes, has also improved.
“I think being injured made me stronger mentally, 100 per cent,” Schenkel said. “Adversity makes you stronger. It’s also made me more determined.”
He also spoke of how he’s happy with where his overall game is at, but not satisfied.
“Still a lot of room to grow, and that’s exciting,” Schenkel added.
Cloutier is one of the Soo players who tends to pepper Schenkel during goaltender sessions at practice.
“His skating has gotten a lot better. I’ve talked to him about it,” Cloutier said. “He’s also so committed and strong mentally.”
“He’s a competitor,” added Raftis. “He wants to prove to everybody that he’s the guy – not only for us, but in the league.”
Following Friday’s opener, the Greyhounds are slated to entertain the Brantford Bulldogs on Saturday and the London Knights on Oct. 4. Both are 7:07 p.m. starts.