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#AHLOTB: Healthy Stalock sparks Wild surge

By Tom Witosky | AHL On The Beat

The most important 10 days of the Iowa Wild’s 2016-17 season may well turn out to be when the team lost four of five games in November.

That’s when head coach Derek Lalonde ordered veteran goalie Alex Stalock off the ice and out of the locker room to get him to take the time to recover from a serious sinus infection that had been bedeviling the 29-year-old Minnesota native for weeks.

“We told him to get well,” Lalonde said at the time. “We know he will help us, but he’s got to get healthy.”

Lalonde’s judgment and patience appears to be the key to a major turnaround of the season for the Wild. When Stalock left the line-up on Nov. 5 he had a 1-5-0 record, since his return Stalock’s record is 5-1-1.

In his first six games, Stalock compiled a 3.83 goals-against average and a .865 save percentage. In the next seven games, his GAA was a 2.00 and his save percentage jumped to .926.

“It was like two weeks, three weeks of just garbage. I never had something like that before,” Stalock said in an interview. “The only time I haven’t been able to play before was when I had surgery.”

The sinus infection — though annoying as he makes a bid to return to the NHL — doesn’t compare to the kind of comeback Stalock has already made since a career-threatening injury sidelined him for much of the last three seasons.

Three nights after winning his first NHL game for the San Jose Sharks in 2011, Stalock found himself undergoing emergency surgery in Worcester, Mass. An opponent’s skate accidentally cut into the back of his left leg, so severely it severed his peroneal nerve — the nerve that controls movement and feeling in the lower leg, foot and toes.

What was worse — Stalock’s AHL assignment had been scheduled to be for one game and then be recalled as the Sharks back-up goaltender. Instead, Stalock has been going through a five-year battle to get back to the NHL.

“It was the first time that I went through something that serious,” Stalock remembered. “Lucky for me, I had family support, but also the support from the Sharks organization was tremendous.”

Surgeons in Worcester repaired much of the damage, but repair of the nerve repair would take place 10 days later at the Mayo Clinic followed by a long healing period.

“It is not easy surgery to do when you are trying to reconnect nerves,” Stalock said. “It also takes a long time to heal.”

Stalock returned the following season, but played in only 11 games — six with Stockton (then in the ECHL) and finishing the season with AHL Peoria.

“With an injury like that you are eligible for disability insurance,” Stalock said. “With that insurance, you get 20 games to decide if your career is going to go on or not. That isn’t a big window for a goalie to decide whether the career is going to go on.”

Throughout it all, Stalock has continued to believe he can return to NHL.

“You don’t think about it much, but there is a lot of pressure on you when you go through that,” Stalock said.

Stalock spent much of the next four seasons continuing to recover from his leg injury in stints with San Jose’s NHL and AHL teams, as well as a brief stop last season in Toronto. During that time, Stalock married his wife, Felicia, and the couple had a son, Simon.

The family also discovered an interest in horses and thoroughbred racing. Asked by Minnesota Vikings play-by-play announcer Paul Allen, Stalock joined a racing syndicate: the TD Group that owns two horses — a six-year-old named Tiger D and a recently purchased two-year-old aptly named Skol Sister at auction. The group also includes former Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner and his son, Scott.

“We got into it because we thought it was cool. When you are an owner, you can go down to the stables any time you want to look at the horses,” he said.

That kind of distraction has been helpful, Stalock added.

“Our son loves it down there. He got to ride the stable horse, so it was a pretty cool summer,” Stalock said. “When the group came to us to buy the second horse, we just were really excited to do it. It is just that much fun.”

At the same time, Stalock decided he wanted to make a concerted effort to revive his hockey career. As a result, Stalock and the Minnesota Wild began to talk.

“My history is that I had a good years and the capability of playing well,” he said. “Thank God, Minnesota saw that in me, showed faith in me and gave me a chance.”

Stalock said it’s clear both sides benefit from the agreement.

“This is what I needed, I knew that going in and that is what makes it advantageous for both sides,” he said. “I knew I had to find some place to play a lot of games to get my game back and they had an opening that needed to be filled.”

Lalonde, Iowa’s head coach, said the team is just beginning to the benefit now that Stalock is healthy.

“He wasn’t feeling well early in the season and it showed,” he said. “Just to be healthy again, he looks like the player we signed to be an elite AHL goalie knocking on the NHL door.”

Steve Michalek, Iowa’s back-up goalie, said Stalock has provided veteran leadership in the locker room as well as on the ice.

“He is clearly one of our leaders in the locker room and on the ice,” Michalek said. “He carries himself in a way that is a great example for a lot of the younger players like me.”

As for Stalock’s recent play, Michalek said that it’s been instrumental in helping the Wild to its best start in four seasons.

“He is clearly one of our leaders in the locker room and on the ice,” Michalek said. “He carries himself in a way that is a great example for a lot of the younger players like me.”

Stalock said that his return to the AHL not only has given him a chance to reignite his career, but has recharged his energy level.

“This is the most fun I have had playing hockey in a long time,” Stalock said. “It’s a good group and I know I am going to play and help a team to win. I know I am contributing every night whether I am playing or not.”

As for his chances of making it back to the NHL, Stalock said simply it’s in his hands.

“It’s up to me,” he said. “It always comes back to the person. All I know is that I will work hard and try to take advantage of every chance I have.”