Gavin Melcher of West Ottawa High School is Sentinel Hockey Player of the Year

HOLLAND — When Gavin Melcher is between the posts, the Ottawa West hockey team always has a chance to win.

The junior goaltender posted a 3.5 goals-against-average this season and was named Holland Sentinel Hockey Player of the Year. The season didn’t go as the team had hoped, finishing with a 5-19 record, but Melcher seemingly still gave the Panthers a chance to come away with a win.

Panthers first-year coach Andrew Stone knows that while the record wasn’t what they were hoping for, without Melcher it could have been even worse.

“He was the backbone of our team, without him those close games a lot of them aren’t close,” Stone said. “He kept us in games we shouldn’t have been in.”

While Stone credits Melcher for giving West Ottawa a chance in many of their games, the junior doesn’t want to take all the credit. He knows he can’t do it all alone.

He was quick to point out the importance of his defensemen to his success in goal this season. Their excellent positioning and limited shooting allowed Melcher to fully commit to every puck that came his way, knowing that any rebounds would more often than not be erased by his teammates.

“I can trust them to be on the other side knocking back all the passes, it allows me to be fully engaged in any shot that comes my way,” Melcher said. “If you’re not totally committed to shooting you’re not going to make that save, so having guys there that I trust makes a big difference.”

Gavin Melcher, Ottawa West goaltender

Yet even with the bond he has with the defenders in front of him, there’s no doubt he’s taken his game to a new level this season. A year ago, his goals-against-average was well above the 5-goals-per-game mark, but with a ton of hard work, he had the best hockey season of his career.

It also didn’t randomly click a day for Melcher. He worked tirelessly over the season with his coaches at West Ottawa as well as a specific goaltending coach at the Bandits goaltending school. He’s been going there for about six years since he got into the fold.

That grind has paid off immensely for Melcher, who plays for West Ottawa but attends Holland Christian School. It also caught the attention of local coaches, who voted him a member of the conference’s first team, one of only two goaltenders to earn the accolade. It was a humbling experience when he received the call that he received such an honor.

“It feels good to know you have the respect of the coaches, you just have to maintain it,” Melcher said. “I was just happy that people had a high opinion of me, because I put in a lot of time and improved a lot, I think.”

He will continue to work this offseason in hopes of taking his game to an even higher level for his final season of high school hockey. His hopes of continuing to play after graduation in some capacity, whether in college, for a club team or playing junior hockey, is still up in the air.

But one thing that will stick with him no matter where he goes is his level-headedness. Both Melcher and Stone agree that this is the most important aspect of a personality a goalkeeper can have. The Panthers goalie had to work on it a bit, but this season, no matter what the scoreboard says, he’s never been too high or too low emotionally. He always kept this balanced personality.

“You can hit him on the head with a two-by-four or you can hug him and you’ll get the same reaction,” Stone said. “He’s definitely stoic on and off the ice.”

He hopes that energy carries over into his final high school campaign, which could help translate to more wins for the Panthers. Because when it comes to playing goalkeeper, for him that mindset is what sets the stage for everything else.

Without that mindset, there’s no way he can be as effective as he wants.

“That’s probably the most important thing, I’ve seen good quality goalkeepers who don’t have that mindset crumble in certain situations,” Melcher said. “I’ve been lucky enough to do a pretty good job recently.”

—Contact Associate Sports Editor Will Kennedy at Follow him on Twitter @ByWillKennedy and Facebook @Holland Sentinel Sports.

Catherine J. Martinez