Zemlak nets tryout with Kings

John MacNeil
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Raiders graduate Garrett Zemlak, 21, was back in Prince Albert this week as an instructor at Kelly Guard’s goaltending school at the Art Hauser Centre. Herald photo by John MacNeil

He left just five months ago, but Garrett Zemlak didn’t devalue his return to the Art Hauser Centre this week.  

“It was nice to come back and see my name engraved in the wall,” said the former Prince Albert Raiders’ goaltender. “I’ll never forget this place. I love it.”

Zemlak’s MVP season with the Raiders last winter was the foundation for his graduation to pro hockey. After a stint with the New York Rangers’ ECHL affiliate in Charlotte, N.C., last spring, he’s now in the Los Angeles Kings’ system.

Zemlak has signed with the Kings’ ECHL affiliate, the Ontario Reign of California, and has been invited to the NHL team’s training camp, which begins Sept. 12.

He hopes to earn a contract with L.A. or its AHL farm team, the Manchester Monarchs of New Hampshire.

“I think that’s what’s going to end up happening — sign with Manchester,” said Zemlak, 21. “I hope, because I want to get up there, eventually.”

The Saskatoon product was an instructor at Kelly Guard’s goaltending school this week in Prince Albert. Last month, he attended the Kings’ development camp in Los Angeles and made a strong first impression.

“I found out I was invited about eight or nine days before the camp, so it was a good thing I was staying in shape,” Zemlak said. “I ended up having a really good camp. It was a really long and strenuous camp.

“I just kind of waited, and then a couple of weeks ago, (Kings vice-president and assistant general manager) Ron Hextall called me and told me they wanted me to come back for the fall (camp). I was super excited.”

Among the Kings’ prospects, Zemlak was in WHL company with goaltender Martin Jones, defenceman Colten Teubert and forwards Brandon Kozun, Brayden Schenn and Linden Vey.

“It was good,” Zemlak said. “I went there and I was really comfortable. It was nice, going to that development camp, because now I know the rink where they’re going to play out of (for the main camp). I kind of know the area where I’ll be staying, so it makes it that much easier.

“Plus, this camp is under the NHL rules now, so it’s only three hours a day. The summer development camp wasn’t (under such restrictions), so they could keep us there as long as they wanted, without breaking any rules. It was a really long week — from 6:45 (a.m.) till 4 (p.m.) pretty much every day.”

Zemlak has an idea of where he fits into the Los Angeles goaltending depth chart.

He believes Jonathan Bernier is poised to make a run for NHL duty with Jonathan Quick. That would put Jones, the Calgary Hitmen overager, and Monarchs incumbent Jeff Zatkoff in contention for Manchester jobs.

“I think they want Jones to come in (to the AHL), but I saw both Jones and Zatkoff at (the summer) camp and I think I can compete with them,” Zemlak said. “You never really know what can happen during a season, with injuries or who’s playing well. I might get the call-up, so hopefully I do well.”

He sampled pro hockey late last season with the Charlotte Checkers of the ECHL.

“I played well in Charlotte,” Zemlak said. “Things went really well there, (but) I never really heard from them again. That’s just kind of how it works.

“I just took my experience in Charlotte as all positive. It was unbelievable. I got to experience the pro lifestyle and living on your own, and all those little things. That was huge for me. I feel like I have a two-month advantage on guys who didn’t get to experience that, too.”

If he begins this season in the ECHL with Ontario, Zemlak might live with prospective Reign rookies Aaron Lewadniuk from the Brandon Wheat Kings and Eric Doyle from the Portland Winterhawks and Swift Current Broncos.

Zemlak’s best friend, former Saskatoon Blades captain Derek Hulak, has been invited to the Phoenix Coyotes’ NHL training camp, so they hope to go against each other during the pre-season.

Zemlak is anxious to face NHL players at the Kings’ camp, and he already hung out with big shots during his July visit to L.A.

“L.A. was unbelievable,” he said. “Just the one-on-one time with the coaches. I worked with (goalie coach) Bill Ranford a lot. He was great.

“Ron Hextall is a real nice guy. I got to meet Luc Robitaille, and Brendan Shanahan was there. It was awesome.”

Zemlak and Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Dustin Tokarski were celebrities this week as part of the staff at Guard’s goaltending school. They were big hits with the 22 young goalies at the annual camp.

“Kelly has done a really good job with this camp,” Zemlak said of Guard, a former WHL and minor-pro goalie from Prince Albert. “All the kids are having fun.

“I love doing this. I’ve always worked with kids, especially with goalies. It’s probably something I will do for a long time.”

 

jmacneil@paherald.sk.ca

 

Organizations: Los Angeles Kings, NHL, Art Hauser Centre New York Rangers Ontario Reign Phoenix Coyotes Tampa Bay Lightning

Geographic location: California, L.A., Manchester Los Angeles Charlotte, N.C. New Hampshire Saskatoon Charlotte Ontario

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