Maine Nordiques goalie Tyriq Outen makes a glove save in a game at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston earlier this season. Ron Morin photo

This past summer, the Maine Nordiques thought the goaltending position was locked up. They had Avery Sturtz returning as a 19-year-old and had signed two others  Kyle Chauvette and Gavin Fitzpatrick — to tenders.

As things played out, Chauvette, a Holy Cross commit, made the Tier I United States Hockey League’s Youngstown Phantoms roster while Fitzpatrick decided on playing for the South Shore Kings of the USPHL’s National Collegiate Development Conference.

While the Nordiques were in the dog days of summer, the organization’s general manager Eric Soltys and assistant coach Matt Pinchevsky went to the Beantown Summer Classic in Exeter, New Hampshire in early August to scout the event, looking at forwards and defenseman.

They also found their goaltender as well in Tyriq Outen, who helped NextGen AAA Foundation  a team made up of all minority players — to the championship.

Maine Nordiques head coach Nolan Howe said the organization was in the right place at the right time.

“While we had options (at the goaltender position), we felt like we were missing the guy,” Howe said. “I will never forget it because my phone rang from both guys at the same time. They said: ‘Hey, we found him, we found what we were missing.’ From that point forward it was a relatively quick process. We spoke to him, we got him to camp and the ball started to get rolling.”

Outen has carried his strong performance from the summer into the fall, as he has compiled a 6-2 record with a 2.35 goals-against average and a .942 save percentage.

He credits his coaches for his strong start to the season.

“The biggest thing now is reading the play, being able to slow down the game in your head and know where everyone is,” Outen said. “So, it’s not helping you, but being able to communicate with your teammates and be more impactful on the ice.”

Howe said Outen spends extra time with coaching staff after practice to get a better understanding of what the coaching staff wants Outen to rely to the forwards and defensemen in certain situations.

UNIQUE PATH TO THE NORDIQUES

Outen’s path to the Maine Nordiques 2020-21 roster may have been the most unique.

The 20-year-old who lives in Tampa, Fla. has been open-minded since he started playing hockey at the youth level with the Tampa 2000s Nordiques forward Cannon Green was also on the team  and all he has cared about is his development as a goaltender.

“That’s the thing with me, I wasn’t really focused on a path, I was just focused on getting better every year, get better every day and look at my options, go where seems the best fit,” Outen said.

Maine Nordiques goalie Tyriq Outen makes a pad save against the Northeast Generals at the Andro Scoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston  earlier this season. Ron Morin photo

What makes Outen’s journey so different than the rest of the Nordiques roster? For starters, the North American Hockey League is a developmental ground for players to play at the NCAA level, whether that be at the Division I or III level. The league had 350 college commitments last season.

Neither of those two routes are likely options for Outen, who is in his final season of junior hockey eligibility.

Outen moved to the South Shore Kings organization in Foxborough, Massachusetts for the 2016-17 season, as he joined the organization’s 16U team, and the following season he played for the organization’s NCDC team. As a 17-year-old he appeared in 18 games, as he had a 9-8-1 record with a 3.11 GAA and a .897 save-percentage. He grabbed the attention of the NHL Central Scouting — the scouting bureau of the NHL — as he was the 19th-ranked North American goalie for the 2018 draft.

While he wasn’t one of the 29 goalies picked in the 2018 NHL draft, he garnered interest from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League — one of the three leagues in the Canadian Hockey League and where the Lewiston Maineiacs played from 2003-11 — as the Acadie-Bathurst Titan signed him as a free agent.

When he put ink to paper, he knew what he was doing — he was likely forgoing his NCAA eligibility as the NCAA considers the QMJHL, along with the Ontario Hockey League and the Western Hockey League, professional leagues because the three CHL leagues allow players with signed NHL contracts to play in the league.

Players can petition the NCAA to regain some eligibility back, but at the very minimum they will have to sit out at least one season if their NCAA eligibility is reinstated.

The Titan were coming off winning the QMJHL President’s Cup and the CHL’s Memorial Cup in the 2017-18 season. Outen, whose mother is from Miramichi, New Brunswick and where he lived until he was three, did not know much about the QMJHL and what usually happens when a team wins a championship — it’s time for a rebuild.

“That’s one of the things I wasn’t aware of then, after winning and stuff, (teams) go through rebuilds and they get rid of guys,” Outen said.

The Titan went 8-54-6 in 2018-19 and Outen went 0-20-1 with a 5.89 GAA and an .861 save-percentage in 29 games played. Even though the numbers weren’t good, being on the worst team in the entire Canadian Hockey League had its benefits.

“It told me how to handle any situation,” Outen said. “Every game, I was getting 60, 70 shots, so I was in a lot of different situations, I got a lot of work and I think it helped me a lot.”

Maine Nordiques goalie Tyriq Outen tracks the puck as its being shot in a game earlier this season at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston Ron Morin photo

Last season he moved down to the Maritime Hockey League — one of the 10 Canadian Junior “A” Hockey Leagues — with the Grand Falls Rapids as he looked to get a second chance in the Q. His rights were dealt from Acadie-Bathurst to the Chicoutimi Sagueneens this past January, but he didn’t suit up for Chicoutimi due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Howe believes Outen’s time in Canada has helped the Nordiques,  who are 9-4-0 and lead the NAHL East Division. Outen is a member of the team’s leadership group despite not wearing a letter on the jersey because league rules prohibit goalies from wearing a letter on a jersey.

Outen made his presence known off the ice the first week and it’s a message the coaching staff still preaches to the team.

“He stood up in front of the whole group,” Howe said, “and said: ‘Guys, I have only been here a short time and I haven’t been a part of something quite like this, but I will tell you this much; it’s easy now to be all on the same page and go in the same direction. But we have to make sure the season goes on; things will get hard at times and that’s when we need to stick together. That’s when we need to do things to the Nordiques standard day in and day out.’”

WHAT’S NEXT?

As mentioned, this is Outen’s final junior hockey season. College hockey in the United States is a long shot, but there are options to play college hockey in Canada or maybe even professional hockey.

Right now, Outen hasn’t really thought about what’s next, but believes he’s on the radar for U Sports schools — the NCAA equivalent in Canada and formerly called the Canadian Interuniversity Sport — even though he’s not playing in Canada this year.

Outen’s family advisor and technology are helping him connect with those schools.

“We are still contacting them and we have a great HockeyTV setup here (in Lewiston), so they are able to watch games,” Outen said. “We are keeping in touch with different options as possible and go from there.”

Howe likes how Outen is handling the situation by controlling what he can control, and the Nordiques will assist Outen whichever avenue he takes.

“There are so many options for him, if it’s professional hockey, if it’s collegiate hockey, he’s approaching it like he does every day and that’s the right approach because as we all have learned this year, we don’t know what tomorrow will bring,” Howe said. “He’s in the mindset to embrace each day as it comes. Whatever comes down the road, he knows he has the full support of the Maine Nordiques.”

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