There are few constants in junior hockey, but Nolan Maier is about is as close as it gets.
For the last four years, Maier has patrolled the Saskatoon Blades crease — and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I knew right when I was drafted here I didn’t want to be anywhere else. I think I want to be here the whole year and my whole career. This is where I want to end. I don’t want to be a part of a different organization or franchise,” he said.
It’s been quite a journey for the Yorkton native, who is entering his final Western Hockey League season this fall.
While most goaltenders begin their junior careers as understudies to older, more experienced players, that wasn’t the case for Maier, who was thrown into the fire just a month into his rookie season in 2017-18 after an injury to Blades starter Ryan Kubic.
The then-16-year-old backup started all five games on a U.S. Division road trip, winning two and recording his first career shutout, and the Blades net has been his ever since.
“That was the first moment where I went, okay I’m in the Western Hockey League, I’m a player and this is normal. This is how they do business and this is how you play and go through the grind,” Maier recalled.
Since then, the netminder has gone on to play 156 regular season games and 10 playoff contests for Saskatoon, and thanks to his reliability and durability, he’s hit some pretty big milestones along the way.
Last season, despite having the schedule trimmed to just 24 games due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Maier became the Blades’ career leader in goaltending wins (91), games played and saves (4,160), and tied the franchise record for shutouts (9).
Now he has an even bigger target in his sights, entering his final season just 29 victories shy of the WHL’s all-time record of 120 shared by Tyson Sexsmith and Corey Hirsch.
It’s definitely within reach for the player who recorded a 36-win campaign the last time the WHL played a full season in 2018-19.
“It’ll be tough but I know I’m pretty close to it and I think if we have a good team we can make a run for it. I know it’s possible,” he said.
Blades associate coach Ryan Marsh joined the team prior to Maier’s second season and knew even before he arrived that the goaltending was in good hands.
“When you start as a coach coming into a new program, you’re looking at your roster and probably the first place you look is what’s the goaltending situation like, and knowing we had a good, young elite goaltender was exciting,” Marsh said.
But it wasn’t just Maier’s play that impressed Marsh.
“Different coaches that you talked to throughout the league had raved about his high character and his leadership abilities and that was evident right from the get-go,” he said.
The goaltender believes those intangibles are more important than any statistic.
“I know from my parents; that’s kinda how they raised me. They didn’t want me to be a snotty, arrogant kid. I think everybody wants to be known as the caring, the nice, positive guy around the rink and I think I’ve definitely been trying to do that more as an older guy,” Maier said.
Similarly, he’s quick to point out that his individual success is a reflection of the team around him.
“None of this would be possible if it wasn’t with all the forwards, d-men and all the coaches and office staff and everybody in the rink being able to contribute to this team’s success,” he explained.
When all is said and done, Maier will have a place alongside some of the best goaltenders in Blades history — a group that includes the likes of Braden Holtby, Trevor Robins, Andrei Makarov and Ed Humphreys, to name a few.
“There’s still so much more coming this year that he’s gonna end with here for his last season so no, he belongs right in that group of elite Blades and players that are gonna leave an impact on this great program,” Marsh said.
And as Maier chases WHL history, he hasn’t lost sight of where it all began.
“It’s pretty special to go through all those memories that I have in this team and this city and just be able to come back here every day and just work my best.”
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