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UMass hockey team signs junior goalie Alex Wakaluk

The battle to be the University of Massachusetts hockey team’s starting goalie for the 2013-14 season just added a competitor.

UMass officially announced the signing of Alex Wakaluk, the son of former NHL goalie Darcy Wakaluk, Wednesday.

Alex Wakaluk, a native of Bellevue, Alberta, was named the most valuable player of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League this past season. The Melville Millionaires netminder led the league in wins (28), was second in save percentage (.930) and shutouts (five), and was third in goals against average (2.32). He was a finalist for Canadian Junior Hockey Player of the Year.

He’ll compete with Steve Mastalerz for playing time. Mastalerz, who’ll be a junior, has battled injuries and inconsistency. He was 4-8-1 with a 2.96 GAA and a .898 save percentage last year.

Kevin Boyle, who appeared in 20 games for UMass last season, is no longer with the team and the status of Jeff Teglia, who played in 18 games over three seasons, including one last year, is uncertain, leaving UMass in need of a goalie.

“He and Steve will be a good tandem to push each other and give us an opportunity to win on any given night,” UMass coach John Micheletto said. “He comes with a pretty good resume from his time in the Sask junior league as well as Midget hockey before that. He’s been able to have quite a bit of success statistically as well as teamwise. We’re hoping that winning background rubs off as part of the culture we’re trying to bring here as well.

“It just seemed like the right fit for us,” Micheletto continued. “We had seen him play and followed up with a lot of people who had great things to say about him as a person and as a competitor. When we were in position to fill that goaltending spot, Alex was someone we focused in on in a hurry.”

Wakaluk, who had always planned to play in college, thought he’d be returning to junior hockey for one more season, but jumped at the chance to begin his collegiate career.

“Playing in college was definitely the goal from day one. I thought it might be another year before I got the chance. Playing in Saskatchewan, there aren’t many players who get scholarships from there before they’re 20,” said Wakaluk, who turns 20 on Aug. 20. “I was very happy with how it worked out.”

While goalies have gotten bigger in recent years, especially in the professional ranks and to some degree in college, Wakaluk is small at 5-foot-9, 175 pounds.

“He’s got some great natural athleticism that helps out his positioning and his anticipation which has allowed him to have the success he’s had. By today’s standards he’s not the prototypical goaltender that you see,” Micheletto said. “But he’s proven that size has not been a factor for him. He’s had success beforehand and I would expect that to happen again.”

Wakaluk credited his mental preparation for much of his success.

“I’m very calm and cool. I feel like I’m going to play the same every game. I have a strong mental game I would like to say,” he said, when asked to list his strengths. “On top of that I have very good athletic qualities. I’m a pretty quick goalie and technically sound.”

Despite his lineage, he didn’t always play between the pipes.

“You always want to be like your dad. Growing up I was a player and a goalie up until I was 13. Then I had to pick one and I wanted to be like my dad,” he said. “Lots of people say that there’s too much pressure and they could never be a goalie. I always think in my head ‘that’s why I love it.’ You can make or break a game or a season. You can win a game for your team. You can influence a game so much more being a goalie.”

He was eager to get to Amherst.

“There’s a lot of excitement and a little nervousness to start real life again instead of just playing junior hockey,” said Wakaluk, who visited Amherst earlier this month. “I just went down and saw the school. Everything looks amazing. I can’t wait.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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