At 24 years old, Keith Kinkaid is now the old man in the crease for the Albany Devils.
After his and Jeff Frazee’s contracts ended at the close of last season, New Jersey re-signed Kinkaid, but opted to not do the same with Frazee, who had been with the organization for five full seasons.
Now, Kinkaid is one of three goalies closing out training camp in Albany. The Union College product is joined by 21-year-olds Maxime Clermont and Scott Wedgewood, who have eight games in the AHL between them.
“It feels good. I’ve been here for two years now, this will be my third, and hopefully, I can help them and they can still help me,” Kinkaid said. “There’s plenty of learning to do. There’s always something to learn. I’ll take the experience of the past two years and use it for this year.”
The Devils’ season starts Sunday at 3 p.m., on the road against the Hartford Wolf Pack. Their home opener is Oct. 12 at 5:05 p.m. against the Utica Comets, the new AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks.
According to www.capgeek.com, Kinkaid was signed to a one-year, two-way contract this offseason.
In New Jersey, Martin Brodeur is in the final year of his contract and Cory Schneider has two years left on his. If Brodeur decides to retire, either at the end of this season or some season in the near future, the 41-year-old’s exit will offer an opportunity for an up-and-comer like Kinkaid.
“I’m definitely aware of it,” Kinkaid said. “They’ve got Schneider and Brodeur up there. Brodeur can’t play forever, like I’ve been saying the past few years. It’s definitely an opportunity in the next few years. I had a really great camp this year, better than the past two. I’m just taking everything in, doing my job and showing them my work ethic.”
While on recall to New Jersey last season, Kinkaid came in midway through a game to get his first NHL action. This preseason, he played in a couple of periods with the big club, and said he’s more at ease in an NHL crease now than he was last season.
“I felt more confident this year,” he said. “I just wasn’t as nervous as before. Handling the emotions and everything is a big part. I’m definitely comfortable now, taking those shots, and I like the fast pace up there. It fits my game.”
Last season, Kinkaid’s numbers improved from his rookie campaign. He dropped his goals-against average from 2.94 to 2.72, and he raised his save percentage from .904 to .905. His record improved from 17-20-3 as a rookie to 21-17-6.
Last season, Kinkaid played in 45 games to Frazee’s 28. He had the hot hand for a while, and Albany coach Rick Kowalsky stuck with him.
The plan this year will be the same. The goalies will trade starts early on, but as the season progresses, a hot goalie will likely keep starting games.
“It’s another step for Keith. He got more games than Jeff did, and he deserved that,” Kowalsky said. “I think the biggest thing we, as a staff, think is that if this kid has a good night, we don’t necessarily have to go back with the other guy. Now, early on, it’s kind of tough to go with just one guy, because we have [three games our first two weekends]. You want to make sure guys aren’t getting stale. I talk about that healthy competition, and if that one guy is clearly playing well, then we’re going to give him an opportunity to win hockey games on a more regular basis.”
In three appearances with Albany over the past two seasons, Clermont has a GAA of 1.63 and save percentage of .940. Wedgewood appeared in five games last season and has a GAA of 3.47 and save percentage of .886.
The two have played a combined 120 games in the ECHL.
Kinkaid believes the netminders will push each other when they’re on the ice and help each other once they’re off the ice.
“We can feed off each other and give each other tips,” Kinkaid said. “We can’t see ourselves playing, so we can give each other good tips. I think it’s going to be a challenge for us all and good competition.”
One edge Kinkaid has on the two younger goalies is his experience. With two seasons under his belt, he’s played in 87 games for Albany. He’s got five shutouts in that time.
When he talks about what he’s done to keep improving, much of it has to do with showing the coaches in Albany and Newark that he is absorbing everything, learning whatever they throw at him. Part of that involves taking care of himself, so he can be more effective at the end of the season — especially if he has been starting for long stretches as the hot goalie — and, hopefully, into the postseason that has eluded the Devils since they moved to Albany from Lowell, Mass., in 2010.
“I’ve just been battling every day in practice, taking care of my body,” he said. “I changed my diet over the summer, too, trying to eat healthier and do the right things. I’m trying to always get the recovery time I need, because it’s a long season.
“I want to get those wins this year and get this team to the playoffs. That’s one of my main goals, and it would be great for the fans, too.”