When Kaden Fulcher’s mom told him he couldn’t play goalie in lacrosse, he asked, “What about hockey?”
The starting goaltender for the Hamilton Bulldogs has had a extraordinary season in the Ontario Hockey League: franchise record for wins, league championship, trip to the Memorial Cup, and signed an NHL contract with the Detroit Red Wings.
Fulcher credits some of that success to good coaching received as a kid growing up in Sarnia-Lambton.
The Brigden native began playing hockey at the age of eight in Mooretown. One early coach was former pro and Sarnia Sting head coach Jeff Perry.
“He brought a pro mindset to the rink every day, and it really helps when you go off to the OHL and you see the same drills that he was doing in minor atom.”
A year later, Fulcher moved up to ‘AAA’ hockey in Sarnia. He got serious about hockey his second year in Peewee. Around that time, his father told him he’d need to work hard if hockey was his true goal in life.
“He said, ‘I don’t care what you do for a living. You could be shovelling out manure at the horse racing sheds for all I care, as long as you’re the hardest working one shovelling manure,’” Fulcher recalled.
“(I thought), this is something I want to do, and I’m not going to waste my parent’s time and money if I’m not going to give it my all.”
It was fun playing each year with same “AAA” group in the Lambton Junior Sting program each year, and it prepared him for what came next, he said.
“It was a good precursor for everything coming up, like the NHL draft, going through your draft year, and how to handle disappointment and excitement.”
The Sarnia Sting selected Fulcher 241st overall in the 2014 OHL Priority Selection draft.
“It was pretty cool,” he said. “It was pretty unexpected to get drafted at all.”
Fulcher spent the next two years at The Hill Academy, a sports high school in Vaughn, Ont., which he said enabled him to develop slowly and in stages.
He returned to Sarnia for the 2015-16 season with the Sting, and won the only three games he appeared in before being traded to Hamilton.
Despite good numbers, Fulcher was not selected in the NHL draft.
“Not getting drafted was tough, but getting the call from Detroit saying they wanted me to come to some camps with them was pretty unbelievable,” he said.
Last fall, after attending the Red Wings’ training camp, Fulcher signed a three-year entry-level deal.
“When you’re a kid you really want to make it to the NHL, but you never really expect it,” he said. “It’s been really special.”
In May, Fulcher helped the Bulldogs upset the dominant Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds to claim the OHL championship.
“We’re champions now and they can’t take that away from us,” he said.