Cameron Whitehead made 742 saves for the Lincoln Stars in the 2021-22 season, but even he couldn't stop the stress that loomed in front of him.
Whitehead, who went 16-8-4 last year, admitted he was always thinking, 'What if?' last season.
Who was in the crowd? Who was watching? What was the outcome of his performance going to be?
His name was on NHL Draft boards, he was uncommitted to a college and was trying to help the Stars to the USHL playoffs.
“There was pressure from not only our coaches expecting wins and stuff like that, but also (college and NHL) scouts, and all the other teams expecting to see your best performance every single night," Whitehead said this week. "It was a very stressful time and I learned a lot about myself. I learned a lot of lessons through the last four months of the year. That's really helped me I think to the start of this year. More of the mental side of the game and being more prepared for the outside noise of the sport.”
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Then with the 128th overall pick (fourth round) by the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2022 NHL Draft and a commitment to Northeastern, all those questions in Whitehead's mind started to fade away.
“That whole season kind of changed my life in a big way,” Whitehead said. “Having that commitment and getting drafted. After that commitment, I thought 'This is pretty amazing.' Then there were talks of being drafted and that was pretty surreal, but there was also a lot of stress that came with that. When it finally got relieved in July, that felt really good and was an amazing experience being at the draft and all of that.”
Those lessons Whitehead learned about himself have shown quickly to the start of the 2022-23 season.
Named the USHL goaltender of the week in the league's first week of the season after posting two victories and a shutout. Whitehead has stopped 45 of 46 shots he has faced and leads the league in goals against average (.50), wins (2) and save percentage (.978) after the USHL Fall Classic in Pittsburgh.
“I just learned to be more aware of just being in the moment,” The Orleans, Ontario, native said. “Last year playing games I was always wondering what the outcome would be. Who's watching and worrying about having a perfect performance every night."
"If you strive for perfection it's never going to happen, because you are never going to be perfect as a goalie. I just learned to be where my feet are and have really taken hold of that.”
Stars assistant and goalie coach Artt Brey has been there every step of the way for Whitehead since he joined Lincoln for his rookie season last year. Even he has seen a big difference in the 6-foot-3, curly-haired 19-year old.
“I think more than anything you see a more mature Cameron Whitehead,” Brey said. “Last year he went through a lot of learning experiences. As a young goaltender that's the only way to mature into an elite goalie. For Cam, he went through a lot last year (and) he went through a lot this Summer. Not only has he come in revitalized (and) reenergized, he has a new sound sense of perspective on how to approach his day-to-day, how to approach his training and how to approach his competition. I think what we are seeing is that next phase of progression for Cam and his journey. It's been really exciting watching him progress, but for the most part he is having a lot more fun.”
Whitehead and the Stars host the Sioux Falls Stampede Friday at the Ice Box in Lincoln's first home game of the season at 7 p.m.