REGINA — “Go get a job.”
That has been Regina Pats goaltender Drew Sim’s mantra since the start of the Western Hockey League’s training camp this season. It has clearly worked for him. The 19-year-old has not only earned a spot guarding the Pats’ crease, but he has excelled. As of Wednesday, Sim was a perfect 5-0-0-0 on the season with a 2.38 goals against average, a .913 save percentage, and a shutout.
“Before every period and every game just kind of that ‘Go get a job,’” Sim said of what he tells himself. “For me, I use it just to clear my mind and to focus on making the next save.”
His strong play has helped the Pats to a solid start this season. Entering Thursday’s contest against the Moose Jaw Warriors, Regina was 6-4-0-1 and 3-0-0-1 on its last four contests.
“Everyone is a year older,” Sim said. “Everyone is another year into their maturity. We’re playing a real mature game right now and our defence has been rock solid so far.”
Last week Sim stopped all 22 shots he faced to help the Pats to a 3-0 victory over Prince Albert.
“I think most of my success this year has come from just being confident in myself and my game,” he said. “To get results this early is huge – it just makes it even higher.”
Heading into training camp, Sims’ “job” with the Pats was in question. Last season the squad missed the playoffs although it outscored four of the eight Eastern Conference teams that played in the postseason. Sims said that at the team’s exit meetings last spring head coach John Paddock said he was going to bring in another goaltender. True to his word, Paddock acquired 20-year-old Koen MacInnes from the Everett Silvetips. With MacInnes, 18-year-old Matthew Kieper and 17-year-old Kelton Pyne, Sim was concerned as the 19-year-old his spot on the team was at risk.
“Bringing in another goalie was kind of that last push helping me have a really big summer for myself,” he said.
“I’d say this is the first summer I really dialed everything in and really put everything I had into it,” Sim said. “I was spending five days a week in the gym, three to four on the ice working – just kind of doing skates and certain days I’d work with my goalie coach. Mentally, it was just trusting the process and trusting what I was doing, the guys that were around me helping me.”
He entered camp with a different mindset and his mantra.
“I’ve been telling myself the same thing since I got here,” Sim said. “Once it was working, I kept doing it over and over for every skate in camp. Once it came to the games in preseason, I kept saying the same thing to myself and it worked there. So, I just kept it rolling into the regular season.”
The 6-foot-3, 212-pounder impressed in camp. He stopped all 26 shots he faced over two preseason contests.
The Pats reassigned Pyne to the Melville Millionaires of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League where he had a 3-2-0-1 record, as of Wednesday, with a 3.31 GAA and .905 save percentage. Last week the Pats released MacInnes. That has left Sim and Kieper in net. As of Wednesday, Kieper was 1-2-0-1 with a 2.71 GAA and a .915 save percentage.
“Last year we also kind of stopped and talked to each other,” Sim said of Kieper. “’We’re going to come back and we’re going to be the guys because we owe it to these guys to make up for this year.’ To see him have success and me have success is just awesome.”
From his end of the ice, Sim has a nice vantage point to watch the Pats’ young, talented forward group – including Connor Bedard (a league-leading 20 points and tied for tops with nine goals, as of Tuesday), Tanner Howe (15 points, fourth in the league), Borya Valis (nine points), Alexander Suzdalev (seven points) and Easton Armstrong (seven points).
“When we’re playing the right way and following our game plan, our forwards are so fun to watch. Fast, electric, so much skating and just outworking guys and then our skill comes through and we start making some plays and it’s really fun to watch,” said Sim, who also noted that “This year’s D core has been unreal so far.”
Early in his hockey career, Sim was a blue liner in the winter. During spring hockey, he played both defence and goaltender. In his first year of peewee hockey, he became a full time goalie.
“We were having spring hockey tryouts some cold winter night in December and I was just trying out as a full time goalie because I kind of knew I was going to have to make a choice at some point,” Sim said. “I don’t know what it was – still to this day, I couldn’t tell anyone why, but I had so much fun that one skate I got off the ice and told my parents ‘I’m going to be a goalie.’”
Hailing from the hamlet of Tees, Alta., Sim never really played in his hometown. Around the age of three, he got his start in hockey with older kids in the nearby community of Clive.
“My mom still has a video. I just kind of stood at centre and did nothing,” Sim said with a laugh.
After a few seasons in Clive, he started playing in another close-by town – Alix. His journey would then take him to Blackfalds, Lacombe, Camrose, Okanagan Hockey Academy Edmonton, Delta (B.C.) Hockey Academy, Northern Alberta X-Treme (in Devon, Alta.), and the WHL’s Vancouver Giants, where he played until in 2020-2021. The Pats acquired him before last season. Sim believes playing in different places and leaving home early in his teen years has benefited him.
“My golden rule has always been no matter who my coach is – goalie coach, head coach, assistant coach – I take one thing from every one. Obviously, bouncing around a little bit I’ve managed to pick up a few things from quite a few people,” he said with a laugh. “Moving away at 14, it helps you mature pretty quickly.”