Goalies Getting It Done
The Halifax Mooseheads are one game into the new year and happily siting in first place overall in the QMJHL standings and strong goaltending has been a major factor in the team’s recent success.
Sophomore Alex Gravel is heating up in his NHL Draft eligible season while 20-year-old Blade Mann-Dixon has been a picture of consistency in his final year of Junior hockey. Head Coach Jim Midgley clearly has equal confidence in both goalies as they’ve nearly had a perfect split in ice-time throughout the first 39 games of the season and have proven that they will give their team a chance to win each time the Mooseheads hit the ice. The goalies are the only twosome on one team in the QMJHL each with double-digit wins this year.
Gravel had an excellent month of December when Halifax won eight times in eleven games and he is on a personal five game winning streak. The Asbestos, QC native posted a 6-1 record during that stretch with a minuscule goals against average of 2.13 and a .931 save percentage. Gravel is ranked as a potential second or third round draft candidate by NHL Central Scouting and has had scouts talking about his work ethic both in games and at practice. After battling through a slow start to the season, Gravel’s record now stands at 10-6-2-1. The strong December helped lower his goals against average to 2.91 and improve his save percentage to .905.
Mooseheads defenceman Patty Kyte said it’s a reassuring feeling to play in front of the two goalies.
“Gravel has sharp reflexes he’s a great puck handler and is ferocious in the blue. The type of guy opponents hate to play against.”
When Mann-Dixon stands between the pipes he brings a certain calming effect to his teammates as he remains even keel under pressure. The veteran leads the tandem with a 14-4-2-0 record, 2.68 goals against average and .908 save percentage.
“He is great positionally, makes everything look easy and is as cool as a cucumber,” Kyte said while adding “He is a great communicator.”
The Antigonish, NS native has been one of the most consistent goaltenders in the league this season and picked up five wins in both October and November. The duo of Mann-Dixon and Gravel has combined to give up the seventh fewest goals in the QMJHL with 112. They’ve also been a major part of Halifax’s second-ranked team penalty kill which has clicked at an 84.1 percent success rate.
The two goalies couldn’t be more different in terms of their shape, size and career path in Junior hockey. The 5-foot-7 Mann-Dixon was an 11th round pick of the Saint John Sea Dogs in 2014 after being passed over in his initial draft year. He has bounced around the Maritimes from Saint John to Moncton and then Charlottetown before the Mooseheads picked him up during last season’s Christmas trading period. His determination and positive attitude have helped him prevail and he is now enjoying a career-year in Halifax. His years as a short stop and catcher in baseball certainly contributed to his abilities with the smooth glove hand he has become known for. Despite consistently putting up respectable numbers going back to his days with the Cape Breton West Islanders in the NSMMHL, Mann-Dixon hasn’t been given the opportunity to play more than 29 games in a QMJHL season. That is changing this year with 21 games played already.
“I played baseball my entire childhood. I would definitely say it helped me out but when I was a kid I was obsessed with anything sport related and I was always doing something with my hands,” Mann-Dixon said.
Gravel’s story is much different. He has been on the Hockey Canada radar for years and is the son of former professional goalie Francois Gravel who was a third round pick of the Montreal Canadiens in 1987. The elder Gravel even suited up for the Halifax Citadels for a pair of games in 1989-90. He was Alex’s goalie coach in the early years and pushed to help with the technical aspects.
“When I was in PeeWee to Bantam we would do some reflexes training in the garage and he had a bucket of golfballs and I would have to catch them with a baseball glove. He used all of what he knew to help me get better,” Gravel said.
Alex came into the QMJHL as the second highest rated goalie in his draft class. The Mooseheads were fortunate he was still around when they nabbed him with the 20th overall pick in 2016. Gravel’s imposing size is a trait NHL scouts love about him. He is a technical player and a student of the position. He has played on the international stage for Canada in the Youth Olympics in Norway and once again joined Mooseheads teammates Jared McIsaac and Benoit-Olivier Groulx last year at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup where Canada won the gold medal. He will most certainly hear his name called this June at the NHL Entry Draft in Dallas, TX.
Gravel and Mann-Dixon may look like the odd couple, but together they have teamed to give the Mooseheads standout goaltending in 2017-18 with plans on even better things to come.