Frederik Andersen has one year left on his contract after this season and there's no guarantee the cap-strapped Maple Leafs can afford to keep him. Back-up Jack Campbell is under contract for two years after this season. In Toronto's system the only other goalie with National Hockey League experience is 26-year-old Kasimir Kaskisuo, who was shelled in his lone appearance.
Enter Joseph Woll.
The 21-year-old is positioning himself to be Toronto’s goalie of the future. The organization's other top prospect, Ian Scott, missed the year after undergoing hip surgery. So, the spotlight in the American Hockey League was on Woll and after a stand out career at Boston College it wasn't the smoothest transition to the professional ranks.
"It's been a bit of a roller-coaster," Woll admits. "For the first time in my life I had a lot of ups and downs that I had to deal with, but things like that make you better in the long run."
Woll, Toronto's third round pick in the 2016 draft, posted an 11-16-3 record and .880 save percentage with the Toronto Marlies.
"Definitely learning why traditionally and historically goalies take a little bit longer to develop," Woll said. "It's because it's such a mental game and it's about making sure you're keeping a short mindset and being dialled in every, single night."
Woll spoke to TSN via Skype from his family home in St. Louis and outlined his plan to improve on the mental side of the game. He also explained how Ed Belfour inspired his mask design and what he learned from watching the rise of Jordan Binnington. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.
What's the biggest change going from the NCAA to the AHL?
"I'd say a combination of the schedule and the lifestyle around it, because at school you're busy throughout the day and you have, obviously, class work to fill your time. You make the transition to pro and it's just hockey that's your only focus. Then the amount of games you play is twice as much as college so that was an adjustment and you have to be pretty short-minded and you can't hang too long on your losses or too long on your victories, you have to have that short mindset."
Was the schedule more draining physically or mentally?
"Mentally. I prepared well at BC and even though we weren't playing as many games, we worked pretty hard in the week and got some good lifts in and stuff so I think physically I was pretty prepared for the season. We didn't go all the way through with playoffs and stuff so I haven't experienced the true grind of a pro season, but what I went through physically I was pretty prepared and I think the Leafs and Marlies staff does a great job of keeping your body in shape and feeling good throughout the year."
What's the next step look like for you? What will you focus on in the off-season?
"There's always things you can get better at as technique evolves, but my real focus is on the mental side. I think it's so important to spend time on that. Everyone focuses so much on spending time on on-ice training and off-ice training and often the mental side gets overlooked, but it’s just as important. Actually, I would argue it's more important than your on-ice capabilities, especially as a goalie. So, it's really about putting time into reading books and meditating and things like that."
Are you reading anything interesting right now?
"I'm about to read 'Mindset.' It's a book recommended to me by (Marlies goalie coach) Jon Elkin so just starting that one. I just got it from Amazon. I had been waiting a few weeks, because Amazon is a little backed up right now (smile)."
What's the book about?
"I haven't started it because I just got it in the mail, but from what he told me it's just a real comprehensive look at the mental aspect of high performance and how to perform under pressure. Hopefully I'll find stuff I can implement into my life."
I was talking to Marlies defenceman Timothy Liljegren this week. He struggled to let mistakes go earlier in this career, but this season he adopted what he called a 'f—k it' attitude and just let things go. How are you approaching the mental side?
"Especially right now, since we're able to take a step back from hockey, it's a great time to really focus on tuning (up) your mental strength. I have a lot of resources. I'm very fortunate in this organization to have as many resources as they give us from mind training coaches to psychologists and different things like that and Elkin has been unbelievable in developing the mental strength that I need. So, all these different resources that I've been opened up to have been amazing and it's a great time to hone in on that."
Do you have a sense of your trajectory and when you might be ready for the NHL?
"To be honest, I'm not really thinking of making the jump or fast tracking or anything like that. When the time is right I'll get my opportunity and, at the end of the day, it's up to me and the way I play. I'm focused on taking it a day at the time and focusing on things I can improve on and being the best version of myself. I trust if I can do that on a daily basis and keep a steady mind I'll get there so I'm not too focused on rushing or waiting or things like that."
Let's go over some of your season. You posted a 23-save shutout in your professional debut on Oct. 12. What do you remember about that game?
"At the beginning there were a little bit of nerves. Your first pro game is always a little bit nerve wracking, but then you get in the game and we played such a good game so I didn't really have to do a ton back there so it was nice to have that be my introduction to the American League. It was awesome to be behind the guys there."
What was it like playing against your old US National Development Program teammate and NCAA rival Jake Oettinger on March 2nd?
"It was awesome. The whole year we were kind of dodging each other. We'd start the different games on the weekend so we never got to play each other. But we got lucky with the league's decision (to re-schedule a game the Marlies initially had to forfeit) and got to go back to Texas and play that game. It was such a fun game to be a part of and any time I get to play Oetter it's a ton of fun. He's a great goalie and I was a little worried there, I thought he was going to shut us out so it was nice to get a couple by him. The last time we played, BC versus Boston University, we tied 0-0 so it was good that we got a couple goals on each other this time."
The Marlies won the game so do you now have bragging rights?
"(Laugh) It's got to be even over the course of the years with BC and BU and now with Texas. It's all friendly competition. It's been like that for my whole career with him. We've gone from goalie partners to playing against each other and, at the end of the day, I know he wants the best for me and I want the best for him. It's a friendly competition."
Any other moments that stand out from this season?
"I thought I played a couple really big games and it's really just about trying to find that consistency in my game. I think just what stands out is all the ups and downs our team went through and, obviously, it would've been nice to see how the end of the year would've panned out, to see if we would've put all those ups and downs into doing something special. So, if the league ends up resuming and we get that opportunity it'd be pretty special to make a run, because we have a really good group of guys."
Greg Moore replaced Sheldon Keefe midway through the season. What stood out about the new head coach?
"He's very similar to coach Keefe so that was good. It wasn't too much of a transition for a lot of the guys. Similar coach in that he really cares about all of his players, but he's very, very intelligent about the game and how he sees it. He's the perfect mix of a players coach, but also making sure he keeps guys accountable."
You debuted a new mask this season, can you take us through the design?
"I ended up putting eagles on it, which a lot of people have asked me about. I thought it was kind of a perfect bridge from the U.S. National Development Program and then going to the Boston College Eagles and now coming to Toronto where Ed Belfour kind of popularized the eagle so I thought it was kind of a tribute to all of that. So, that's really the only big thing on my helmet that stands out other than the cross on the back."
Any other ideas moving forward that you might want to implement? You have some time to brainstorm now.
"I'll have to start thinking of some creative stuff. I know last year, when I was first signing, all my buddies at BC were getting on me to try and do a Game of Thrones theme, because we were all into that. My roommates and I were all into that and watching when the last season came out. So, I was thinking of doing some sort of Night King mask, because it would go with the Toronto blue."
As a St. Louis kid, what was it like watching the Blues win it all last year?
"I will say that it hurt that I couldn't be back home, but it was awesome. I was actually in Boston when it was going on because I was at BC taking classes so it was funny watching all the games with my friends who were cheering for the Bruins. Obviously, I was the odd man out cheering for the Blues. It was unbelievable what they were able to accomplish and what that will do for the city of St. Louis and for younger kids growing up, maybe we'll see a spike in youth involvement in hockey."
What did you notice about Jordan Binnington emerging on the scene like he did?
"The biggest thing that stands out is his personality and mindset going into it. That was awesome. That's exactly the mindset that a goalie needs where you know you're a great player and, at the end of the day, nothing else matters besides you and the guys in the room. So, that was pretty cool. And then, obviously, the story about how he kept grinding it out, grinding it out and then gets his opportunity and makes a run and wins a Stanley Cup so pretty awesome to see him do that."
Who are your goaltending role models?
"Growing up I really loved Carey Price and still do. I have really loved watching him through many years. He's an incredible goalie and someone I really look up to. This year, I started to look at a few other players, younger goalies coming into the league. I loved watching guys like (Igor) Shestyorkin and (Carter) Hart be so successful in the league. It's been awesome watching them."
What's your average day look like right now?
"Right now, there's a lot of focus on off-ice training and it stinks we can't be on the ice, but it's a good time to take a step back and focus on some things you can't spend a lot of time on during the year. So, a lot of off-ice training between lifting and yoga and different acceleration and conditioning stuff. And then, honestly, it's a lot of family time. It's been good to get home and spend a lot more time with my family than I have in the past."
When did you start doing yoga?
"The Leafs have actually put on this live Instagram thing that they do about three times a week so we've been doing this yoga mobility training and it's been great so far. It's the first time I've been strict to a regimen with yoga so hopefully I'll start seeing some benefits to it."
Last summer there was a video of you posted on Twitter where you're working on your hand-eye co-ordination at a screen. Do you have a chance to do any of that while in self-isolation?
"No. So, that's actually at my gym complex that I work out at in the summer, but since we're stuck at home I can't get out and work on that stuff. I think hand-eye, it's still possible to work on that with racquet balls and things like that, but I don't have access to the live board right now, unfortunately."
If the season resumes, what will it be like for goalies to have to come back and play such important games right off the start?
"It will be an adjustment, kind of like starting the season out. I trust the league to give the players enough time to get re-acclimated with a training camp period. It will be a little challenge but, at the same time, it's been a good mental break and a chance to step away and focus on bigger things that are more important than hockey in the long run."