The Church of Clarenville

Updated: January 23, 2014
Jason Churchill Clarenville Caribous | Newfoundland Hockey Talk

Drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the fourth round, 129th overall, there is no denying that Jason Churchill convinced someone within the scouting circles that he has talent to play in net.  Since being drafted however, Churchill has not played a game in the NHL or in a well-respected professional league, speaking volumes to perhaps what others noted about the Sharks’ signing.

Cory Wilkins of Hockey’s Future, The #1 Online Prospect Resource, called Churchill’s draft by the Sharks a bust.  He states that Churchill got drafted after posting average numbers on a terrible Halifax Mooseheads team.  Recording just 15 wins with a save percentage of .886 and a GAA of 3.73, the reality those numbers ranked in the bottom half of the league.  His best year posted in junior came the next season where he posted a 28-18-8 record in 54 games with a .905 save percentage, a 2.59 GAA and 4 shutouts.

Without an entry deal from the San Jose squad, Churchill did sign a card with the Flint Generals of the United Hockey League in 2006 but never played a game in the league.  He instead opted to return here to Newfoundland and play for the Clarenville Caribous.

Some have pointed to Churchill’s poor puck handling ability and the fact that he’s just an average skater as the main reason he didn’t make it to the NHL despite having good technique while between the pipes.  When all combined, Churchill was seen as being an average goalie by many analysts and the fact he was stuck in what was seen as the Sharks’ goalie factory, left this player with little options for a career in professional hockey, despite other teams such as the Buffalo Sabres mulling over the possibility of making a move to acquire his rights.

After coming to play hockey back in Newfoundland in the Senior League Churchill began to turn heads.  He had raw talent and one of the quickest glove hands of any goalie in the league.  His lack of experience at first was obvious but there was no denying that he was an rising star and being a part of the Clarenville Caribous organization was making this star shine brighter.

It didn’t hurt Churchill that he was backstopping one of the fastest and most skilled teams in the league.  He quickly showed why he was picked by the Sharks as he started to steal games with the big save, whether it was with the lightening glove, stacking the pads together or putting his 6’4” frame in front of the puck.

With Jason Churchill in the net the Clarenville Caribous are a much better team than with him on the bench or not in the lineup.  He’s been in net and led the Caribous to three Herder Memorial Championships and one Allan Cup Championship.  He is arguably one of the best goaltenders in the Newfoundland and Labrador Senior Hockey League at the present time despite having what some would consider mediocre numbers for a team’s number one goalie.

If we look at his current stats, Churchill has a record of 5-2-2, with a 2.44 GAA and a save percentage of .926.  He has only played 10 games, facing 298 shots during those games.  Whiffen for the Cataracts has played in 18 games with a record of 12-4-0 and has logged almost twice as much ice time as Churchill. Whiffen has a very respectable 2.674 GAA and a .921 save percentage while facing 608 shots.  Churchill has faced an average of just under 30 shots per game with Whiffen facing almost 34 a game.

In the previous two seasons, Churchill has performed exceptionally well for the team recording a 9-4-1 record in 2012-13 and 10-5-1 in 2011-12.   During those seasons he was 6th and 5th in save percentage behind goaltenders playing with less talent than in the Caribous lineup.  In fact, his teammates Devon O’Brien and Roger Kennedy had better save percentages with the Caribous than Churchill.  In fact, both the Caribous backup goalies had better GAA as well, with Devon O’Brien touting a 1.714 GAA vs Churchill’s 3.161 GAA in 2011-12.  O’Brien had a record of 6-1-0 that season compared to Churchill’s 10-5-1.

One has to wonder if the Clarenville Caribous have made the correct decision with respect to its goaltending situation.  It’s painfully obvious that there is more at play with this team than the goaltending and while Churchill was a major factor for the team’s early successes in the NLSHL, the team as a whole has matured and their talent has gotten that much deeper throughout the lineup.

The simple conclusion to be made here is that regardless of who is between the pipes for the Caribous, whether it be Jason Churchill or some other goalie, the depth the team has for scoring goals and on the blue line plays a major role in the success in net.

Jason Churchill may be the Caribous number one goalie but his success in the latter stages of his senior hockey career has to be credited with the team in front of him.

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