Growing up in Alaska, Isaiah Saville never would’ve thought he’d sign a professional contract at 21 years old, but it’s been a dream since he first stepped on the ice. Friday afternoon, that dream became a reality.
Saville signed a three-year entry-level deal with the Vegas Golden Knights, the organization that drafted him in the fifth round (135th overall) of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
“It really hasn’t really settled in yet if I’m going to be honest,” Saville said. “It’s definitely surreal to think I’m a professional hockey player now. It’s hard to believe that I’ve been working towards this for my whole hockey career, but now it’s here. And it’s a job now. So, I think that’s really cool and I’m excited about that aspect.
“I’m just excited to continue to develop and continue to get better every year and every day though, and I know this is just another step in the right direction. Not taking it for granted and I’m going to make sure that I’m doing everything to be ready for every opportunity.”
Saville will depart for Las Vegas on Sunday and plans on joining the Henderson Silver Knights, Vegas’ AHL affiliate.
The decision to sign pro was a stressful one, but it’s a decision Saville said he’s happy with. The 6-foot-1 goaltender forgoes his senior season and puts a bow on his collegiate career.
Saville put together a 38-36-5 record over his three years with the Mavericks. In 82 appearances, Saville posted a 2.78 goals-against average and a .907 career save percentage. Now he’ll look to carry that success with him at the professional level.
“It’s definitely been stressful, but in a good way,” Saville said. “I think it’s a problem a lot of people would want to have, and I’m thankful for that. It was a fun process though getting it all done and I’m thankful I was able to spend some time with my teammates here this week. But yeah, I’m glad the process is over and I’m excited to get started up with Vegas.”
A highly touted prospect, the Alaska native was named the USHL Goaltender of the Year before joining the Mavericks. He led the Tri-City Storm into the postseason and posted a 25-4-3 record between the pipes for the Storm during the 2018-19 season.
Saville said it’s crazy to think how fast the time has gone by. He committed to Omaha under the previous coaching staff and a lot has changed since. Saville blossomed into a fan favorite, a member of Team USA at the 2020 World Junior Championships and one of the top goaltenders in the NCHC.
Saville also led the Mavericks to the program’s fourth NCAA Tournament appearance last March and has backstopped Omaha to multiple signature wins the last three seasons.
“I get goosebumps thinking about it,” Saville said. “Even just from my freshman year being a middle tier college program to being a top-10 team for a lot of the year this year, and it’s really cool to see how the program has progressed since I committed years ago.
“I mean all the credit to the coaching staff for bringing in incredible people first and then being able to grow the people that we have here into great hockey players. And all the credit goes to the staff for really believing that you need good people to be successful.”
Although there’s an excitement to make the jump to the professional level, when one door opens another one closes. Saville said it’s bittersweet leaving Omaha behind, a city that has become his second home.
“Definitely kind of an emotional roller coaster thinking about leaving Omaha,” Saville said. “Being here for three years and everything this city, the fans and the coaching staff have done for me, and the culture of the program, it’s sad to leave. Even going out to dinner at random places with all the guys and doing so many fun things as a college student. You don’t realize what you have until you’re leaving.
“I know it’s cliche and everyone says, ‘Oh, I wish I would have enjoyed it a little bit more,’ but it’s so true. I was the same way and when I was a freshman, I always thought I’ve still got three more years after this, but it flew by. Thinking about what the city means to me and what this program and school means to me, there’s really not a set of words that can justify what this place truly means to me.”
This season, Saville posted a 16-14 record and recorded four of his six career shutouts. Saville was named the NCHC Goaltender of the Week five times and even netted one First-Team All-NCHC vote.
When asked about his favorite memory in an Omaha sweater, there’s several to pick from, but the 4-1 win over North Dakota in the regular-season finale two weeks ago comes to mind. Saville said he had an idea it would be his final game at Baxter Arena going into it and really tried to soak it in.
But what he’ll miss the most is simply the time around teammates and daily college life in Omaha.
“It’s become a second home and I’m just going to miss Omaha,” he said. “I appreciate all of the support from the fans that I’ve received since stepping foot on this campus, and I don’t take it for granted. I’m happy that I got to spend three years here and really be able to excel myself and learn how to be a better person from the community here.”
Now, the question is where the Mavericks will go next between the pipes. Saville’s roommate, Austin Roden, entered the transfer portal Wednesday night and is searching for an opportunity elsewhere.
Omaha will have Simon Latkoczy coming in next season and Jacob Zab is still on the roster, but neither have appeared in a college game. The Omaha staff has already started looking and the Mavericks will add a goaltender from the transfer portal at some point.
But no matter who is between the pipes for Omaha next season, Saville has a message for that person.
“Just buy into what’s going on here,” Saville said. “Buy into being a Maverick. I think it’s a special opportunity to be able to wear Omaha across your chest and it’s something you can’t take for granted, so really buy into the culture that’s been built here.”