(Courtesy Marc Smith) Brody Willms was going to be a starting goaltender in the Western Hockey League next season, he hoped it would be in Moose Jaw and his patience paid off on Tuesday.
With Zach Sawchenko’s departure to the University of Alberta Golden Bears, the door is open for Willms to take over the starting role with the Warriors for the 2017-18 WHL season.
“I’m really excited about it,” said Willms on Tuesday. “We’re going to have a great team this coming year, it’s going to be a lot of fun to be a part of and I’m really excited to continue my career in Moose Jaw.”
Willms was originally an eighth round pick in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft by the Warriors and quickly rose to become the expected to successor to Sawchenko. He served as the team’s back-up for the past two-and-a-half seasons.
This past season, Willms appeared in 25 games for the Warriors, posting a 12-7-2-0 record with a 3.11 goals against average and a 0.907 save percentage.
The Warriors are confident that the Coquitlam, B.C. product will be able to get the job done as the starter.
“Brody is a character guy, he’s paid his dues here,” said General Manager Alan Millar. “I know at times it hasn’t always been ideal here, when you’re a competitive player, you can be frustrated when it comes to your opportunity. As I said to Brody on the phone last Thursday when I told him is that patience can be a virtue because this is the opportunity that he’s wanted. What’s been good for us and special about him is that he wanted that opportunity here in Moose Jaw eventually and now he has it.”
Willms has been waiting in the wings for this chance to start with the Warriors. He said he’s ready to take the reigns.
“Having the experience that I have in the league, even if it is as a back-up, I still think that’s awesome experience to have and it’s definitely going to help me going forward to transition into being a starter,” said Willms, who attended the Los Angeles Kings’ training camp last year.
Willms has a career record of 25-23-6-0 in 64 appearances in the WHL. He has been able to increase his save percentage every season in the league, posting a career-mark of 0.902, while his goals against average has dropped in each season with a 3.39 average overall.
Knowing that he’s the guy heading into what is expected to be a season in which the Warriors content for a league title is a big motivator for Willms.
“Just knowing that the opportunity I have here with Moose Jaw is a big one gives me some extra motivation,” said Willms. “You don’t want to change your approach too much, you want to continue to do what you’d normally do, but definitely a lot of extra motivation.”
Losing the two-time Eastern Conference Goalie of the Year isn’t ideal, but Millar explained that they’ve built a goalie succession over the past five years to make sure they were prepared for any changes.
“It started with Zach, then we were very fortunate to draft Brody in the eighth round the next year and two years later to draft Adam Evanoff in the tenth round, and we feel that allowed us to have a succession plan with three very quality goaltenders all within three years of each other,” said Millar.
“We believe that Brody is very capable, we believe that he’ll step up and give us the goaltending that we need, we believe that he’s ready to be a number one goaltender, and by no means does this change one iota what our expectations are for this club in 2017-18 and our expectations next year are to content for a championship.”
Adam Evanoff, who’s heading into his 17-year-old season, is expected to assume the back-up role for the Warriors. He was named the Canadian Sport School Hockey League’s Midget Prep Goalie of the Year this past season after posting a 15-3-1 record with a 2.44 goals against average and a 0.918 save percentage with the Okanagan Hockey Academy.
After Sawchenko’s decision to leave, the Warriors will go into next season with Willms and Evanoff as their goaltending tandem.