When Oak Lake’s Riley Wallace first strapped on the goalie pads as a youngster, the Virden Oil Capitals’ netminder never expected to be making big saves so close to home.
“I started playing goalie at four-and-a-half years old,” the son of Tod and Penny Wallace said. “I really loved all the gear goalies got to wear and how awesome it looked. My dad was also a goalie and I wanted to be just like him.
“I really enjoy being a goalie because, in my mind, I think goalies are a real factor when it comes to winning games and I love making big saves in front of big crowds like we get in Virden!”
The 18-year-old rookie has played well for the Oil Caps this season. The 5-foot-9, 155-pound Wallace has a 9-1 record with a 2.93 goals against average and a .904 save percentage, as of Sunday.
“He has been real solid,” Virden head coach Troy Leslie said. “He has come in and had some very good games for us and some key wins for us.”
The Oil Capitals bench boss believes that a key moment in Wallace’s season was backstopping the team to a 2-1 overtime victory over the defending Manitoba Junior Hockey League Selkirk Pistons in December’s MJHL Showcase. Leslie said Wallace made some big saves in that game and it appeared to make him more confident.
“Wally is an extremely competitive kid,” said Ryan Potter, the Oil Caps goaltending coach consultant and video coach. “He is technically sound and that allows him to play a controlled, calm game. Wally is also athletic enough that when he has to use explosive movements to scramble or recover, he certainly is able to do that.”
A former standout for the Southwest Cougars midget AAA team, Wallace said moving to the MJHL was a pretty big jump.
“Guys are bigger and stronger,” he said. “They can shoot the puck and the overall pace of the game is very fast.”
He is dedicated to improving his game.
“Wally is learning every day and I am excited to see where his efforts take him,” Potter said. “He is very coachable and, with the continued work, he will continue getting better every day.”
Wallace has enjoyed being part of a such a tight group on the Oil Capitals this season.
“We have an outstanding leadership group this year on the team, which really brings the team together and that’s what junior hockey is all about. Virden is such a great place to play junior hockey, because the whole community is so supportive and makes the adjustment of playing junior hockey very easy!”
The rookie has enjoyed playing home games with plenty of family and friends watching every night.
“A lot of guys when they go to play junior hockey can be pretty far away from home so I am very lucky and thankful to be so close,” Wallace said.
He grew up in a hockey family. His sister, KJ, plays at St. Norbert College, an NCAA Division III school, in Wisconsin. Their younger brother, Hunter, suits up for the Cougars and is an Oil Caps prospect.
“My family's support has been amazing throughout my whole hockey career and I cannot thank them enough for that,” Wallace said. “Right from when I was little, my Mom and Dad have helped and pushed me to be the young man and goaltender that I am today and have been so supportive. My brother and my sister also have been a huge part of my career - spending hours playing hockey in the basement and also outside on the outdoor rink at the farm.”