When you have the hot goaltender, you put him in. That is certainly what the South Shore Kings did, and their No. 1 guy Evan Szary ate it right up.
In the end, Szary - an Army West Point recruit - led the NCDC in games played and tied for first in wins with fellow Division I commits Aidan Harper (UMass-Lowell) and T.J. Semptimphelter (Northeastern), all with 21. The workhorse helped the Kings rise up from third-to-last place in 2019-20 to second in a competitive North Division. All of these factors considered, the NCDC coaches voted Szary as the 2020-21 Goaltender Of The Year.
“It’s definitely an honor,” said Szary. “There are some great goalies who have come through the league and have been granted this award in the past. This award is a testament to everyone around me - I have a great support staff with my teammates and the Kings coaching staff and Tyler Holske as my goaltending coach.
“With the league being better than it was last year, so I had to do a little bit of adjusting and it just took off from there,” Szary added. “I am honored to receive this award.”
Szary, a 2000-born native of Nashville, Tenn., has just completed his third NCDC season and leaves as the all-time leader in NCDC goaltender games played with 85.
Like all hockey players in 2020-21, Szary and his Kings teammate could only deal with the hands they were dealt - frequent schedule changes, cancellations, location changes, locker rooms being closed.
“It obviously was a very different season, with a lot of moving pieces. Being able to get to Hub City Tampa and get a good flow of games was a big help,” said Szarry. “With how well the League was able to handle COVID-19, it was great for my age-out season, as I was really able to showcase myself in front of coaches. The ultimate goal for the end of the season was an NCAA Division I commitment and I was lucky enough while in Florida to commit to West Point.”
Szary, who began his NCDC career with the Jersey Hitmen in 2018-19, joined the South Shore Kings ahead of the 2019-20 season. He put up a strong .920 save percentage despite a losing record as a lack of depth hurt last year’s Kings, a condition they reversed this year with the deepest lineup the organization has seen at the NCDC level.
That, however, wasn’t even evident from the outset. Szary and the Kings struggled in October after pulling off a strong season-opening win against the Junior Bruins. The November addition of dynamic Japanese forward Chikara Hanzawa (a Sacred Heart recruit) seemed to spark the Kings that month and they never looked back. In fact, after Nov. 13, Szary never took back-to-back losses. He bridged 2020 and 2021’s Hub City Tampa start with a five-game winning streak. He then shook off a tough outing against Twin City and bounced back with five more straight wins, including an epic 6-5 win on Jan. 17, outlasting the eventual Dineen Cup champion Jersey Hitmen.
Another highlight saw Szary stop all 34 shots faced by the Dineen Cup runner-up Rockets Hockey Club, winning a 1-0 goaltenders’ duel with Harper. That was one of his two shutouts, the other being a 25-save blanking of Utica on Feb. 13 in his second-to-last Hub City game. The mental game played a big part in Szary’s success this year, he said.
“I think really it came down to how I approach the game, in practice and in games,” added Szary. “I brought a hard work ethic and never quit on a puck. This year, I also calmed down my whole game. In my first year of juniors, I got nervous in games. Once I calmed down my game and my movement, that helped me ultimately achieve the best play I was able to put out on the ice.
“The league got faster [in 2020-21], but I was able to slow it down in my head,” he added. “I really feel that was the biggest part of my game I was able to grow, as well as the little things like skating and tracking pucks.”
These days, Szary is working through the paperwork to get ready for his collegiate and military career to begin.
“The application process is a lengthy one. I’ve talked to the Army coaches a little bit, but right now most of it is working with the U.S. Army and administrative side of it,” he added.