A few quick hitters as the Flyers begin Day 2 of a six-day training camp:
- Chris Pronger is here. He is in for his physical. He will not be cleared as his post-concussion problems persist. He will be placed on long-term injured reserve Friday. I do not expect him to speak publicly, but you never know with Pronger.
- Recently acquired goalie Brian Boucher will be placed on waivers today. General manager Paul Holmgren feels Boucher has a good chance of clearing waivers because all teams have at least two healthy goalies today. If he had Boucher in camp for a few days and another goalie in the league got hurt, the Flyers could conceivably lose Boucher on waivers as his cap hit ($950,000) is not prohibitive. Once Boucher clears, he will be assigned to the Phantoms.
(click below on "Full Story" for more)
Brian Boucher is back for a fourth stint with the Flyers.
The Flyers completed a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes to reacquire Boucher, along with defensive prospect Mark Alt in exchange for forward Luke Pither, who was playing for Trenton in the ECHL.
Boucher, 36, played 10 games with Carolina last season and had a 3.41 goals against average and an .881 save percentage.
Looking to bolster the depth of their defensive unit, the Flyers today signed veteran defenseman Kurtis Foster to a one-year contract worth $950,000.
Foster, 31, has bounced around the NHL for much of his career after coming into the league as a highly-touted defensive prospect.
Tom Sestito went to England to stay in game shape during the lockout.
He came back with the mumps.
"It was a good experience over there but I probably won't be heading back there any time soon," Sestito said.
A bit of a rock star playing for the Sheffield Steelers where he posted eight goals and 11 assists for 19 points and 69 penalty minutes in just 17 games, Sestito contracted the Mumps. A teammates wife had them and exposure during the first 12 days of contracting the virus is dangerous because that's when the virus is contagious.
At the Flyers unofficial on-ice workout, more players arrived Wednesday with the start of training camp getting closer and closer.
The players practiced for about an hour and participated in an inter-squad scrimmage.
Ruslan Fedotenko arrived at the rink just after the practice ended. He will skate on Thursday.
A lot of people have been asking me who the Flyers are going to bring to camp, if there are a couple roster spots that might be available for a camp battle, no matter how abbreviated, and who the organization is going to turn to to replace injured players.
So, I thought it best to provide a breakdown, by position, of the players who should be in camp next week and who might be fighting for a spot in the lineup.
The Flyers will likely bring 15 forwards to camp with 12 starting spots and likely two reserve spots available on the roster.
The guys you know will be there are easy:
Danny Briere ***
- Briere has the asterisks next to his name because he has an injured wrist and could miss time in camp and the beginning of the season.
The next seven names are where things get interesting:
Yes, you read Laughton's name there. I know G.M. Paul Holmgren told the media it was unlikely that he'd bring in a junior player with camp being so short, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Laughton there.
In talking with people in the organization who have watched Laughton play at Oshawa in the OHL this season, they are really impressed with his game and they think he could be NHL ready right now.
With that said, I think Laughton, the Flyers first round pick in last year's draft, has a shot to not only be at camp, but, much like Couturier last season, win a job on the team. People have asked me for a roster surprise, well, that's it in my opinion. Laughton makes the team.
Wellwood and Rinaldo should both make the team as well and Shelley will probably be in the same boat he was often last season - a healthy scratch who can fill out the roster in case of injury or be inserted when a game looks like it might get particularly physical.
McGinn is an interesting name.. He has impressed the Flyers brass with his growth into the role of a power forward this season with the Phantoms, and he'll get a look with the big club.
Sestito is a victim of bad luck once again - last year he looked like he was going to make the team out of camp, then was suspended for a hit in a preseason game and never really got a long look in the NHL.
This year, he is laid up with the mumps. That's right, the mumps. I haven't heard of anyone having the mumps since 1979. Maybe it's just me though.
Anyway, the mumps might keep him out of camp as well, which is where Zolnierczyk might get his chance.
Zolnierczyk has had a good season so far for the Phantoms in the AHL and because of that, he is likely the first call up from that team to replace a forward. With Briere's status uncertain and Sestito sick, he'll likely get the call to be here for camp, but I still think if everyone's healthy, he's the odd man out back to Adirondack.
The Flyers have depth at this position, but they are banged up. As such, the situation is tenuous at best as the Flyers hope to stay healthy on the back end so things don't go south quickly.
Here are the locks for the lineup:
Andrej Meszaros ***
Meszaros was cleared by doctors for full participation yesterday after offseason surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon. Holmgren believes Meszaros has to learn to trust the tendon now, which could take right up until the opener, which appears to be slated for Jan. 19. However barring a setback, I'd expect Meszaros in the lineup for the opener.
The Flyers will probably have three other defenseman in camp who will battle for the final starting spot:
Despite an up-and-down season so far for the Phantoms, I'd expect Manning will still be given a shot with the Flyers if, for no other reason, Erik Gustafsson continues to suffer from a bone bruise in his foot (although it sounds like it may be worse than originally diagnosed and he could be out for a bit) and Marc-Andre Bourdon hasn't been on the ice in over a month dealing with issues related to a concussion he suffered last season with the Flyers.
Unless Manning really impresses and wins that No. 6 spot, I think the Flyers would rather have him playing games than being a healthy scratch and will send him back to Adirondack, leaving the battle between Gervais and Lilja for playing time until Gustafsson is healthy.
Gustafsson is in town though and will be seen by Flyers doctors, which means the team probably plans on keeping him here the whole time and not send him back to Adirondack, unless it's for a rehab stint.
There's not much drama here. Ilya Bryzgalov is the starter. Michael Leighton is the backup. The Flyers won't bring in a third goalie for such a short camp. The only question that needs to play out here is just how many games Bryzgalov starts in a shortened, compacted schedule. If there's an injury, the first call up would likely be veteran Scott Munroe.
VOORHEES, N.J. – For the first time in months, the rink wasn’t a lonely place to be.
There were still only a little more than a handful of players skating, but there was definitely a different feel to their private workout.
The players were wearing uniforms belonging to their NHL teams for one, and there were fans – about 100 of them, filling the stands to watch NHL hockey for the first time in the 2012-13 season.
And while it was just some small skating and shooting drills, it was evidence of one very important thing.
Hockey is back.
Following a lengthy work stoppage, the NHL and its Players Association tentatively agreed on a new collective bargaining agreement Sunday. And while nothing can happen until the new deal is ratified – meaning so official practices, or roster moves, or schedule announcements yet – just the notion that the league will resume in earnest in the next week was enough to lift everyone’s spirits.
“It’s exciting to be back,” said Max Talbot, “It was exciting moment [yesterday]. It’s not fun that we’re starting the season in January, but it’s going to be an exciting season this year because every game is going to matter and we’re thrilled to be back.”
Talbot skated with Flyers’ teammates Kimmo Timonen, Jody Shelley, Andreas Lilja and Andrej Meszaros as well as Carolina Hurricanes (and former Flyers) Andreas Nodl and Brian Boucher, who still live in the area.
The rest of the players are expected to filter in as the week progresses as the league hopes that the ratification process of the new deal will allow an abbreviated training camp to open as early as this weekend.
In what is expected to be a 48-game season, the Flyers may have a head start on a lot of teams in the league with a training camp that will last less than one week because of how many players return from last season and their familiarity with the coaching staff.
Combine that with the fact that about two-thirds of the expected roster has either been playing games in Europe or in the AHL and the Flyers could be in a good spot to start the season.
“We have a lot of returning players who have played the system and are comfortable here in the locker room, are comfortable with their teammates, are comfortable with the system and the coaches and we can utilize that to get back on track as quick as we can,” said Flyers coach Peter Laviolette. “A lot will be the same so it’ll be easier for them to get out there and work on it because they already know what we’re looking for.
“It won’t be as difficult as a team that has a lot of new players or a new system or new coach. We have a lot of familiarity.”
Timonen expressed a similar sentiment, saying that the Flyers in-place chemistry and the fact that a large majority of the team has been playing games for some time now gives them a leg up.
However, he also admitted that as a veteran player who did not go to Europe, he might need a couple games to get to his best level of play.
“The guys who stayed home – like myself and a few other guys – it’s going to be tough,” Timonen said. “It’s going to take a little time. I can’t expect to be at my best in the first or second game. That’s the reality. We have to start getting back into great shape in a short period of time because every game matters now. We’ll get there eventually.
“The key for a short season is to stay healthy,” Timonen said. “There’s going to be a lot of games every week, so you hope not to have a lot of injuries. I’m hoping the young guys can step up and play with a lot of energy and passion. They’ve only played 30 games so far, so they shouldn’t be too tired. That, and Ilya Bryzgalov. If he comes in and plays like he did at the end of last season, we’ll be in good shape.”
General manager Paul Holmgren gave a brief update on the Flyers roster situation as the start of training camp looms.
Holmgren said defenseman Andrej Meszaros has been skating and ‘looks good on the ice.” Meszaros, who suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon during an off-ice work out in Slovakia in June, was visiting a doctor Monday and Holmgren said he expects the doctor to clear Meszaros to play as soon as the start of the season.
The newest injury is to that of center Danny Briere who suffered a sprained wrist and a bone bruise when taking a slash during a game in Germany last week.
“It’s a little bit of a concern,” Holmgren said. “We’ll get more information on that over the next few days. I don’t know how it is for sure. We’ll see once our doctors get their hands on him… If he ends up missing a little bit of time I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. Obviously we’d like to have him, but if we don’t, we’ll deal with it.”
Holmgren added that he didn’t expect that the Flyers would make any other signings or trades prior to the start of the season and said that he will meet with Laviolette in the next couple days to determine what the training camp roster will look like.
And while that training camp roster is still fluid, Holmgren did add that he expected there to be battles for a roster spot or two as well as ice time as camp and the season progresses.
“There’s some guys who have played well with the Phantoms and could get some looks here in the short training camp that we’re going to have and we’ll see,” Holmgren said. “Ice time is always up for grabs. Competition is a good thing.”
To contact Anthony SanFilippo email firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37
It’s not quite the halfway point of the season for the Adirondack Phantoms, but the calendar has flipped and the 2012 portion of the 2012-13 season has been completed.
After 31 games, there’s no doubt the Phantoms aren’t happy with where they sit in the standings. They are 13-16-1-1 for 28 points. And while that is only six points out of a playoff spot, it is also tied with the Connecticut Whale for the fewest points accumulated through the first three months of the season.
The Phantoms inconsistency has stemmed from several issues. There’s no question that injuries have plagued the Phantoms as only four players (Brayden Schenn, Danny Syvret, Harry Zolnierczyk and Rob Bordson) have played in all 31 games.
But the Phantoms have struggled to find consistency in their game as well. Scoring has been an issue as only five teams have scored fewer goals than the Phantoms 77 so far this season, and are averaging fewer goals per game than the Phantoms (2.48).
The Phantoms have relied heavily on top prospects like Schenn and Sean Couturier to provide a bulk of the offense – and they have come through.
Schenn has 32 points, which ranks fifth-best in the AHL this season. His 19 assists also rank in the top 10 in the league (ninth) and his 13 goals are tied for 16th in the league.
Couturier has nine goals and 18 assists for 27 points and has done that while often being asked to play against the best players on the opposition because of how defensively responsible he is on the ice.
Aside from those two though, the Phantoms have really struggled to find any other regular offensive contributors.
Defenseman Erik Gustafsson is third on the team in scoring with 14 points, and he’s missed the last seven games for the Phantoms with a foot injury.
Zolnierczyk and Tye McGinn are tied for third on the team with eight goals each, but McGinn has proven to be mostly a power play specialist offensively and Zolnierczyk scored more when he was playing with Couturier because he was afforded space to use his speed to skate, but since being asked by coach Terry Murray to play more of a checking line role, while he has done a fine job of filling that role, his secondary offense has dried up a bit.
Jason Akeson is the only other player with double-digit points (3-10-13) but he spent the first six weeks of the season with the Flyers’ ECHL affiliate Trenton Titans.
The power play has really struggled as well, clicking at just a 14.9 percent clip, which is tied for 22nd in the AHL.
McGinn does a fine job of taking away the eyes of the goaltender, positioning himself in front of the net as a big-bodied screen while Schenn and Couturiere work a nice two-man game to set up the power play – once it’s set up.
However, aside from McGinn, Schenn, Couturier and Brandon Manning, who has a cannon from the point and has scored three of his four goals with the man advantage, no other player has more than two goals on the power play.
The Phantoms have also been victimized by a lack of discipline and turnovers in their own end. While the penalty kill is a strength for the team, ranking ninth in the AHL with a kill percentage of 84.9, they have taken the fifth most penalties in the league, and often tax their best players by being forced to kill too many penalties a game.
The Phantoms average killing more than five penalties per game,, which means half the time it’s even more than that.
Meanwhile, the turnovers have been killer, forcing goalies Scott Munroe and Cal Heeter to either have to make huge saves or fall victim to a goal that is a direct result of a defensive zone mistake.
Murray talked repeatedly over the first few months about the gap being too big, the breakout not functioning properly and too many tries for home run passes from below the defensive end line that immediately come back into the zone.
These are the basic reasons why a team with big time playoff aspirations finds itself at the bottom of the standings, not at the top.
That doesn’t mean individually players haven’t been good.
The following groups will divide the players into groups based on their performances so far this season.
As expected: Schenn, Couturier, Gustafsson, Munroe, Syvret – Schenn and Couturier have been the offense for the Phantoms. They have accounted for 30 percent of the total points and 29 percent of the total goals the team has scored. Gustafsson was easily the Phantoms best defenseman before the foot injury. Munroe has provided a calming, veteran presence in net and his 2.59 goals against average a .918 save percentage have been good enough to keep the Phantoms in practically every game he starts. Syvret has provided that on-ice leadership, playing a very calm and collected game on the back end.
Flashes of brilliance: McGinn, Zolnierczyk, Eric Wellwood, Zac Rinaldo – McGinn needs to be a better five-on-five player, especially in his own end, but, he is really growing into his size nicely on offense and is developing a strong, power forward’s offensive game. Zolnierczyk may have surpassed Wellwood as the fastest skater on the team and he has used that speed to his advantage offensively, but sometimes he lets that speed take him out of a play as well. If he can reign it in when he over-skates, he can be a reliable, two-way forward. Wellwood got off to a miserable start for the Phantoms but has been much better in the past month, and it shows. There’s no question he has NHL ability. Rinaldo may lead the team in penalty minutes (90) but he’s not even in the top 20 in the AHL in that category. He has played with an edge and has toed the line nicely. As such, he’s been the best forehecker on the squad.
Pleasant surprises: Heeter, Bordson, Matt Konan – Cal Heeter expected to start his season at Trenton in the ECHL, but beat out Niko Hovinen in camp and made the Phantoms roster. He’s had some really strong performances in goal and continues to work with Flyers’ goalie coach Jeff Reese on the weaknesses in his game and gets better every day. Bordson is a guy that every team needs – smart, responsible forward who can play any position and is willing to do anything for the team, follows the system to the letter. And to think he was a throw-away contract in the Mike Richards trade. Konan started the season battling injury, but since joining the lineup has assimilated in a tough AHL very well for a first-year pro. Has earned a regular spot on the blue line.
Team-oriented professionals: Garrett Roe, Jeff Dimmen, Zack Fitzgerald, Cullen Eddy – Roe plays on the power play. He kills penalties. He’s moved up and down the lineup – and he’s even taken a seat a few times as a healthy scratch based on matchups – oh, and he’s very good at the shootout. He keeps his head down, doesn’t say much and plays hard. Dimmen was brought in as a depth defenseman, but has done a fine job filling in on an injury-depleted blue line and has posted eight points in 15 games. Fitzgerald is a veteran defenseman who has played primarily as a fourth-line forward. He brings an element of toughness to a team that was in need of one early in the season. Eddy has played in all but one game for the Phantoms and has been a steady second or third-pair defenseman.
Has higher expectations: Manning, Tyler Brown, Mike Testwuide, Oliver Lauridsen, Matt Ford, Shane Harper – Manning is still viewed as a top defensive prospect for the Flyers organization, but has had an inconsistent season. He has been on the upswing lately, and is well-respected in the locker room as an alternate captain, but he certainly hasn’t played his best brand of hockey yet this season. Brown was looked at in the summer as a guy who could make some noise for a fourth line role for the big club, but has not shown the same promise this season for the Phantoms and has spent 13 games as a healthy scratch. Testwuide is a similar player who has dropped down the depth chart over the past year and spends more time as a healthy scratch (18 games) than actually on the ice. Big fall for a guy the Flyers were excited about as recently as 12 months ago. Lauridsen could have been in the “Flashes of brilliance” category because he’s had some good games and is the Phantoms best plus-player (plus-5), but for a guy with his size, he needs to play bigger and stronger. He’s not afraid to be physical – or drop the gloves, but he needs to use his size smarter and better in-game, which is why he was a healthy scratch for a few games last month. Ford was a top scorer in the AHL last season, but has just one goal so far this season for the Phantoms in 19 games. His healthy scratches have been more based on a numbers problem, but Ford hasn’t gelled with either Couturier or Schenn and as a result has had a disappointing season so far. Harper is looked at as a good prospect for the Flyers, but again hasn’t been able to stick on any line so far this season. Harper has three goals and has played most games (23) but his time on ice is getting more and more limited and he hasn’t shown a propensity to be defensively conscious.
Victims of Circumstance: Akeson, Ben Holmstrom, Marc-Andre Bourdon, Andrew Johnston, Matt Mangene – Akeson started the season in Trenton as part of a numbers game despite being the Phantoms leading point producer a season ago. Since his return, he’s been good offensively, but has only played in 17 games. Holmstrom, the team captain, was having a nice season as a defensive-minded forward until he blew out his ACL and was lost for the season with injury. A big blow for the organization, Holmstrom was thought to be a guy the Flyers could turn to as a reliable replacement if a forward was injured once the NHL returns. Bourdon has only played 17 games for the Phantoms, and has been out of action for more than a month as he continues to battle problems related to a concussion he suffered with the Flyers last season. He’s definitely a top defensive prospect when healthy, but he hasn’t been healthy all season. Johnston and Mangene started the season with the Phantoms, but were both sent to Trenton of the ECHL to refine their games. The Flyers do like both players down the road, but need them to develop at a lower level first.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email email@example.com or you can follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37
When Paul Ranheim was a little kid, there was one activity that he loved more then lacing up a pair of skates to play hockey:
“I always wanted to build things,” he said. “When I grew up I wanted to work in construction. But I had to take a detour and play some hockey.”
For 15 seasons Ranheim was considered a reliable, defensive-oriented winger who could be counted on to shut down a top player, or kill a penalty while occasionally chipping in offensively.
For three of those 15 seasons, Ranheim did just that in Philadelphia with the Flyers, playing with the team from 2000-2003.
His best season with the Flyers was 2000-01, when he scored 10 goals and seven assists for 17 points, when he was a quiet and cerebral veteran who often ignored the spotlight, but was considered an ultimate team-oriented player.
After playing those 15 years, spending time in Calgary, Hartford, Carolina and Phoenix aside from his time with the Flyers, Ranheim decided to finally do what he always wanted to do.
“I immediately got involved in real estate and home building in Arizona and built a beautiful home out in the desert,” said Ranheim, now 46 and back home where he grew up in Minnesota. “I hired a contractor, an architect and an interior designer for the project, but I wanted to be involved every step of the way – so I was.”
Ranheim built a beautiful home – one that he had conceptualized in his own mind and brought to fruition.
“It is when that happens, when you see something that you want to make, and then you complete it just as you saw it that you get a real sense of satisfaction,” Ranheim said.
But, the economy went south and the real estate market went with it. Ranheim was an economics major at the University of Wisconsin, so he was no dummy, and bailed out of the construction and contracting business – for a little while anyway – to pursue other business ventures.
He and a couple friends then created their own Arizona-based technology company called Keyware.
Keyware provides digital social monitoring and security solutions for Internet access devices used in households and small businesses.
Digital social monitoring and security involves monitoring and protecting people and their activities as opposed to computer systems and networks such as that provided by antivirus software companies.
The products apply a combination of sophisticated software and hardware delivery systems to provide a simple, pragmatic and robust approach to solving the problems of digital social monitoring.
The first product was called Action Alert (actionalert.com), which is a comprehensive parental control software that allows parents to safely monitor and control Internet usage by their children.
It was a huge success.
Investors got involved with the company throwing millions behind it, and a second product called VeriKey was created. This would allow small businesses to monitor employee Internet usage, lock out unwanted web sites and eliminating personal activities on company computers.
A new CEO was hired and the products became even easier to use as they became downloadable.
While Ranheim still had a business tie to the company, things were running smoothly enough that he could try other outlets.
So, he got involved with the marketing and branding of a hockey jersey company and helped sell the model to youth leagues and high schools.
But he knew all along what his true calling was.
So Ranheim sold the home in Arizona and moved back to his hometown of Edina, Minnesota.
There, he rebuilt the snack bar at the local hockey rink. They loved his work so much, that he picked up another rink project. Then a mom of one of the kids who played at the rink asked him to work on her home.
He started assistant coaching hockey at St. Louis Park High School (with head coach and former Flyer Shjon Podein) and was asked to help build a new pro shop in the rink they play hockey.
It’s a dream come true for Ranheim, who took classes and earned a contractor’s license when he was in Arizona.
“My goal is to start a home remodeling company here in Minnesota,” Ranheim said. “I watch all those reality shows and get some great ideas from them, but I have a real eye for what something should look like. I want to take some old, gray homes – places built in the 1950s and 60s and transform them.”
And it’s not just the conceptual part of it… Ranheim wants to get his hands dirty.
“Oh I want to be right down in there working on everything,” he said. I’m not just an idea guy.”
Ranheim needs to be involved. He needs to be kept active. He needs to always have something to do.
Coaching is another outlet for him.
“I’m not the kind of guy who’s going to keep playing in a men’s league,” he said. “Some guys like that, but it isn’t for me. I had my fill of playing. But getting on the ice with the kids and coaching and skating with them and teaching and getting a good workout in is exactly what I need to feed that fire.”
It was a fire that many astute Philadelphia hockey fans noticed for a few short years, not because he was constantly lighting up the scoreboard, but because Ranheim brought his lunch pail to work every night for the Flyers.
Yep, he liked to get his hands dirty.
“I was so excited to be in Philly,” Ranheim said. “I was almost there earlier in my career because [then GM Bob] Clarke tried to trade for me when I was with Calgary and it was close - but it didn’t work out.
“However, what really impressed me when I finally got there is how the organization is run. It all starts with Ed Snider – he makes that team such a family and such a well-run organization. Its fun to be part of it. You want to help it succeed. Plus I love the history of the organization. Just to skate in that uniform was a privilege for me.”
And Ranheim always surrounded himself with solid citizens as friends in the locker room. While he can sit there and talk about how entertaining a teammate like Jeremy Roenick was, he was more interested in talking about the quality people in the room – like Keith Primeau.
“Keith and I went back to our days in Hartford and Carolina, but you couldn’t find a better teammate,” Ranheim said. “And I loved the way he led the team. He was a great captain.”
Ranheim was also tight with fellow defensive forward Kent Manderville and really liked the attitude and approach of young players at the time Justin Williams and Patrick Sharp, both who have gone on to star and win the Stanley Cup in other cities.
Ranheim even extoled the coaching abilities of Bill Barber and Craig Ramsay, calling them both a pleasure to play for.
Ranheim said he hasn’t had a chance to get back to Philadelphia but one time – for a QVC event for his tech company – since leaving the Flyers, but says he keeps a close eye on the Flyers and still roots hard for them to succeed.
“I’m a big fan of Paul Holmgren and always want to see him do well,” Ranheim said. “To see him continue to have success there, even after turning the roster over the way he had to do, is a testament to not just the organization, but the work and commitment he and his staff puts in to provide the best possible product on the ice.
“The Flyers are in good hands with Holmgren.”
And from what it sounds like, the folks in St. Louis Park, Minnesota are in good hands with Paul Ranheim too.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37
Anthony Stolarz grew up minutes from Six Flags Great Adventure.
As a kid, it was a convenience to have an amusement park so close to home, and he did frequent it several times a summer with his friends, but the truth is, he’s not really into roller coasters.
“I’m much more of a water park kind of guy myself,” he said. “You know, relax in the sun, swim, cool off, it’s more laid back and low key.”
A lot like Stolarz wants to be perceived – laid back, low key, under the radar a little bit.
Which is fine and dandy, especially when you are a freshman goaltender on a nationally ranked college hockey program and your getting a lighter load as you bide your time behind a more established upper classman.
And while that is technically the case for Stolarz, 18, a second round draft pick of the Flyers last summer, playing at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, which is ranked No. 12 in the nation, it’s been a little more than just getting his feet wet in his first collegiate season.
Actually, it’s been more like holding his feet to the fire.
Stolarz has played in just seven of UNO’s 18 games thus far this season, but it’s not like coach Dean Blaise is making him take baby steps against inferior competition.
No, Stolarz has faced five teams that were nationally ranked at the time they played. And one of the other two – Bemidji State – reached the Frozen Four in 2009.
So, yeah, it’s been daunting.
Not that Stolarz will let on that it has been. Nope. When he talks about playing these games, the reaction you get is more Lazy River than Kingda Ka.
“It’s been a great experience,” Stolarz said. “The competition is great in college hockey and you have to bring your ‘A’ game every night. I have to admit that in the beginning I was a little shaky because of nerves, you know, it was my first time playing college hockey, but once I got adjusted and worked hard in practice, I got used to the speed of the game and I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable. It’s been tremendous. I have confidence in my abilities and confidence that I’m going to stop the puck and give my team a chance to win and I think as the season’s progressed I’ve been able to do that.”
Consider his first start in college was against No. 3 Notre Dame – and he only allowed three goals – and to say he’s only gotten better would be tough to accomplish, but he has.
Those three goals against the Irish were the most he allowed in a game this season (he also allowed three against Bemidji State). Otherwise it was two goals allowed against then-No. 17 Northern Michigan, two against No. 16 St. Cloud State and two against No. 18 Minnesota State.
And those are in games his team lost.
It’s safe to say that Stolarz has a record of 2-4-0 so far this season because his team hasn’t done a great job scoring for him either.
But those two wins – they were beauties.
His first collegiate victory came Nov. 24 when he blanked Alabama-Huntsville 8-0, making 20 saves.
Then, last Saturday, he thwarted Minnesota State 5-1, making a career high 27 saves.
At the holiday break, Stolarz has a goals against average of 2.15 and a save percentage of .911.
Not bad for a kid who in 2011 wasn’t sure if hockey was even going to be in his future.
That’s because he had been cut by two different Eastern Junior Hockey League teams. That’s Tier III Junior A. Not to mention, the year before your draft year. It didn’t look good.
So he gave it a go in the North American Hockey League with the Corpus Christi Ice Rays. It’s a league that is so far off the radar, only one player from the entire league was invited to the NHL combine.
That player was Stolarz.
Excited to be invited, Stolarz wasn’t thinking of being drafted, instead he was just hoping to get a college to notice him and maybe earn a scholarship.
But he made an impression on at least one guy, Flyers scout Neil Little.
“First and foremost when you find a guy with that kind of size with great mobility, it really opens your eyes,” said Little. “Not many guys can combine their size with flexibility, agility and overall skill. There are a lot of qualities there that I really liked about him.”
Stolarz is 6-foot-6, so he’s hard to miss. Growing up in New Jersey, he idolized Martin Brodeur (sorry Flyers fans, his parents were both from the Northern part of the state, which is why he roots for the Mets, Nets and Giants too – give him a pass).
However, his game is not modeled after Brodeur at all, but much more in the vein of Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne.
“Anthony is a tremendous athlete and from a technical standpoint, he has a real good foundation,” Little said. “He can only improve from there an we expect big things from him.”
Little went on to add that goalies usually take longer to develop into NHL caliber talent, but the Flyers are very high on Stolarz and can see him blossoming quicker than most – which is why they took him in the second round – with the draft pick acquired from Columbus in the trade for Sergei Bobrovsky.
But Stolarz isn’t getting ahead of himself. Not even a little bit. As a matter of fact, while most draft picks will tell you they wish they can fast forward a few years and get right to their first NHL camp, Stolarz is just the opposite.
“It’s good to go to college and get an education,” Stolarz said. “At first my thought was that it was going to be for a career, but maybe now it’s for a fallback plan in case hockey doesn’t work out – and you can’t play hockey forever – but it’s important to me to get that education first because they way things have gone for me in the last couple years, I look at hockey as being a bonus for me.”
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email email@example.com or you can follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37