GOTHENBURG, Sweden — Practice had just finished and Jacob Fowler was grinning from ear to ear. Did he just know he was going to score against the USA the next day against Switzerland? Did a teammate show him the latest viral TikTok video? Was he subtly making fun of the somewhat tired English of the two journalists standing in front of him?
We'll never know, but there's a good chance we'll be in the field with all of these hypotheses. Fowler, we learned from reliable sources, doesn't need a particular reason to show off his beautiful white teeth.
“I would say he often has a smile on his face,” says David Karl, head coach of the U.S. national team.
“He's smiling all the time,” confirms his colleague Len Hutson, who can't help but put his lips in a half-moon shape himself.
Those who followed the news of the latest NHL Draft had the opportunity to spot the fun, red-haired Florida personality. Today we can confirm that it was not a front. Why would he build one? Fowler has been living his best life for a year.
Drafted in the third round by the Canadian after winning USHL Playoffs Player of the Year and USA Hockey Goaltender of the Year, he arrived on the Boston College campus to defend the nets for a young, but talent-packed, team. At midseason, no first-year goaltender has spent more time in net. Nationally, he ranks second in wins (13), sixth in save percentage (.925) and twelfth in goals against average (2.16).
Here he is at the Junior World Cup, and for the first time in his life he visits the Old Continent. He's having the time of his life.
“The beds are a little small, the electrical outlets are different, the scrambled eggs are different,” the friendly doorman said at the start of the tournament. I don't know if I'd say I like it, but it's not a negative either. I take what comes and enjoy the moment! »
According to those around him, the change of scenery did not affect his mood or mood. Those who meet him behind the scenes describe him as a talkative and outgoing young man. “If there's activity in the locker room, it's probably going to be in the middle of it,” reveals position coach David Lassonde.
But the clown also has a serious side that he saves for important moments. All his teammates and coaches praise his great calm and reassuring presence.
“I think he understands very well the balance that must be struck between the need to focus on the task at hand and the importance of enjoying the moment. He is able to switch from one to the other in the blink of an eye,” Lassonde noted.
On the ice, Hutson describes Fowler's voice as “reassuring” and marvels at his ability to stay upright under pressure.
“As a player or a coach, when you sit on the bench and watch him play, he exudes an infectious confidence,” Lassonde says. We never panic, ensuring that no one panics in his presence. »
Fowler started two of the United States' four preliminary round matches. We can assume that he would not have received such a request if Trey Augustin had not fallen ill before the match against the Czechs. The latter, a prospect for the Detroit Red Wings, has been more convincing overall in games against Norway and Slovakia and should be the man for the job for the rest of the American rotation.
The business card that Fowler left in Sweden, if he did indeed scratch his semicircle one last time, would allow his teacher to mark the points he would have to work on. On the one hand, Lassonde believes his passing student will have to learn to challenge more of the pitchers who came before him. »
Second, the trainee will have to improve his decision-making in what Lassonde calls his game near his positions. He gives, for example, the second goal he allowed the Czechs when he was surprised by a high shot while he was in a squatting position (Reverse VHfor beginners).
But the experienced coach, who has worked five times at the World Junior Championships as well as the Beijing Olympics, also saw the potential of the French project shine through in this brief sample. His list of qualities includes his ability to pursue the puck in heavy traffic, his ability to limit rebounds, and his ease with the puck.
More than anything else, Lassonde was encouraged by Fowler's ease in absorbing the new information presented to him.
“In our video sessions, I use the acronym WDYS which stands for ‘What Do You See?’. I freeze the image and ask him what he sees. More often than not, he hits me on the head with exactly what I want to hear. Even better, he shows us the same level of understanding in real time.” “When the match is in full swing.”
And he probably does it with a smile to boot.