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Net success: the top three Express goalies of all-time?

 

Merriam-Webster defines success as “degree or measure of succeeding”, “favourable or desired outcome”, also the “attainment of wealth.” In the world of hockey, team success is determined often by what trophy, if any, the team hoists at the end of the season. Player success may be the result of winning a scoring title, improving performance from one season to the next, or simply playing a season at the next level in their career.

The Coquitlam Express has featured a variety of interesting starting goaltenders over the span of their existence.  Who can forget Kyle Jones? The team’s first-ever starting goalie tended the crease for three seasons from 2001-04 and he is the only starter to have that tag in three straight seasons.

Khaleed Devji had the starting goalie title for two consecutive years from 2010-12 and Hollywood power couple Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn were fixtures at arenas around the BCHL as they watched their son Wyatt don an Express jersey during the 2004-05 campaign.

All three netminders are memorable for various reasons, but are they the most successful goalies in franchise history? While Jones is easily at the top of the list for franchise goaltending starts and wins, does this make up for a lack of playoff success? Do playoff champions rank higher than regular-season champions? Everyone has an opinion, so let the discussion begin.

Clay Stevenson

Stevenson joined the Express in 2017-18, following a season spent with the 100 Mile House Wranglers of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League.

His first year in Coquitlam is definitely one worth forgetting as the Express only won four of his starts with Stevenson posting a dismal 4-16 record. The Chilliwack native showed some improvement in the following year, completing the 2018-19 season with a 14-11 record in a back-up role.

Then came along the 2019-20 season. It was truly a record-breaking season, not only for the Express but for Stevenson as well.

Coquitlam outpaced second-place Penticton by six points in the race for first overall and also won the Coastal Conference by 18 points over Island Division champion Nanaimo. The Express captured the Mainland Division title with a franchise-record 47 wins and 96 points. The team showed thorough domination in the Mainland Division by eclipsing their long-time nemesis – the second-place Chilliwack Chiefs – by an astounding 33 points.

In goal, Stevenson led the charge with a franchise-best record of 30-2-1, while posting a franchise and league-best save percentage of .936. Stevenson also posted a microscopic 1.77 goals-against-average which again was best in the league.

The COVID-19 outbreak abruptly ended the Express season prior to the start of their second-round series against the Surrey Eagles. Regardless of this fact, Stevenson definitely had a very successful season and statistically, the best ever for an Express netminder.

Gordon Defiel

Defiel was obtained in a trade with the Brooks Bandits of the Alberta Junior Hockey League prior to the start of the 2013-14 season, following a season with Minnesota of the Superior International Junior Hockey League.

The two-time SIJHL champion had what could be described as an average regular season with the Express, posting a 20-20 record, pedestrian .888 save percentage and a relatively high 3.64 goals-against-average. The Express finished the regular season in third place in the Mainland Division, scoring the most goals in the league with 226 while giving up 225, which was the fourth-worst in the BCHL.

If Jekyll and Hyde could be used to describe a hockey club, the 2013-14 Coquitlam Express would certainly be front runners in that description. I am unsure what head coach Barry Wolff spiked the team water bottles with before the playoffs started but it sure worked. Defiel consumed the most of that magic water for sure.

Defiel’s Fred Page Cup playoff run in 2014 is nothing short of amazing. He posted a league-best 14-5 record, a sparkling .922 save percentage, and trimmed nearly a goal per game off his goals-against-average in the playoffs, finishing at a solid 2.69.

The Express swept the also over-achieving Vernon Vipers in the league final to claim its second Fred Page Cup trophy in eight seasons and punch its ticket to the Western Canada Cup in Dauphin, Manitoba.

The Express dream season was derailed in a tie-breaking game versus Spruce Grove and Coquitlam fell two games short of playing the final. Despite the setback, it was definitely a successful season and playoff run for Defiel.

Bryce Luker

About 20 games into the 2005-06 season, Express head coach Rick Lanz felt the team had good goaltending but not superior netminding.

With superior goaltending being the operative words as the foundation for a championship-winning team, a quick call to Quebec goaltending guru and legend Francois Allaire netted the Express Bryce Luker.

The Rigaud, Quebec native came in with two years of NCAA Division I hockey under his belt at Michigan Tech but returned to junior hockey with the hopes of pursuing his post-secondary education elsewhere.

Luker immediately solidified the Express goaltending situation. He posted a 25-15 regular-season record with a .902 save percentage and 3.03 goals-against-average and propelled the Express into the playoffs as the number two seed in the Mainland Division.

His exemplary goaltending continued in the playoffs as the Express won its first-ever playoff series by disposing of the Langley Hornets in a quick four-game sweep. Luker’s strong play continued for the rest of the playoffs, as the Express steamrolled its way to a first-ever Fred Page Cup Championship and Doyle Cup Championship win over the Fort McMurray Oil Barons of the AJHL.

The victory over Fort McMurray punched Coquitlam’s ticket to Streetsville, Ontario, which set the stage for the team’s 2006 Royal Bank Cup Championship victory.

Luker’s outstanding playoff where he posted a Fred Page Cup winning 16-4 BCHL playoff record sporting a 91.6 save percentage and 2.51 goals-against average along with continued success in the Doyle and Royal Bank Cup championships cement him in the conversation as the most successful Express goaltender ever.

The future is now as the Express embark on another season in the BCHL. With veterans Joe Howe and Jack Watson competing for space in the crease, time will tell if they challenge Stevenson, Defiel and Luker as Coquitlam’s next netminding greats.