by Tony Brown | AHL On The Beat Archive
As of Wednesday morning, American Hockey League goaltenders must have a minimum of 1,020 AHL minutes played to their credit this season in order to qualify for inclusion among the league’s official statistical leaders. As of Wednesday morning, Lake Erie Monsters goaltender Brad Thiessen, a 6’0”, 181 lb. 29-year-old native of Aldergrove, B.C., has played 1,011 minutes and change in the AHL this year and while he’s not listed among the league’s top netminders, his numbers belong there.
In 18 appearances with Lake Erie this season, Thiessen boasts an impressive 9-3-4 record with three shutouts, a 1.72 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage. Currently in the midst of his seventh professional season following a decorated collegiate career at Boston’s Northeastern University that featured Hockey East Player of the Year honors and recognition as a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award (given to the top player in college hockey) following the 2008-09 campaign, Thiessen, whose first AHL appearance this year didn’t come until mid-December, considered calling it quits last offseason.
“I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to keep playing or not,” said Thiessen. “My wife and I prayed a lot about it and felt like God still had a plan for me in hockey and after speaking with [Columbus Blue Jackets Assistant General Manager] Bill Zito, I was presented with this opportunity.”
After signing an AHL contract with the Monsters in the offseason, Thiessen, who won the Baz Bastien Award as the AHL’s outstanding goaltender in 2010-11, knew he’d have to bide his time for an American League opportunity as the third goaltender on Lake Erie’s depth chart to start the season, a campaign that began for Thiessen in the ECHL with the Cincinnati Cyclones—a far cry from the peak of his pro career thus far, a five-game stint with the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins in 2011-12.
“It’d been six years since I played in [the ECHL], but it worked for me and my family,” explained Thiessen. “I have a wife and young son and with Cincinnati and Cleveland only four hours apart…we decided to give it a shot.” In his first ECHL action since a 12-game stint with the Wheeling Nailers in 2009-10, Thiessen says the opportunity to play every night for the Cyclones was a major help in honing his game in the early going. “Being [in Cincinnati] for three months really helped me get into a rhythm and when the opportunity did come [with the Monsters], I was ready to step in and keep building on what I had going.”
With midseason injury problems in the Columbus goal crease necessitating the eventual recall of both of the Monsters’ top goaltenders, Joonas Korpisalo and Anton Forsberg, to the NHL, Thiessen suddenly became a critical player for the Monsters—a team locked in a grueling race for playoff positioning in a loaded Central Division. Monsters head coach Jared Bednar says, given the unpredictable nature of an AHL campaign, Thiessen’s offseason acquisition was certainly no accident.
“You rarely get through a year when you don’t lose a goalie,” explained Bednar. “Our organization understands the importance of having a guy [like Thiessen] that can keep generating wins for you when you’re going through some adversity and keep your team in the hunt and that’s what [Thiessen] has done for us. He’s exactly what our team needs right now.”
After allowing three or more goals in four of his first six AHL appearances this year, Thiessen has given up two or fewer goals in 11 of his past 12 games played, posting a team-best three shutouts over that span. Rookie Monsters defenseman Dillon Heatherington says his teammates have rallied around the steadiness that Thiessen has brought to the Lake Erie goal crease this season.
“He’s been amazing. Nothing short of spectacular,” Heatherington said. “It’s so nice to have a goaltender where you can allow outside shots and you have the utmost confidence that he’s going to make all the saves. He’s making saves that goaltenders shouldn’t be making, so it’s been impressive and I have faith that he’s going to keep it going.”
The calm and confidence with which Thiessen plays is, according to him, a product of the valuable context and perspective he gleaned during a remarkable start to his professional career. Following the conclusion of his final collegiate season at Northeastern in 2008-09, Thiessen was called upon to serve as one of Pittsburgh’s practice goalies throughout the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Despite having not played at that point in a professional game in his career, Thiessen traveled with the Penguins throughout their ultimately fruitful quest to claim the 2009 Stanley Cup and, while his name was left off the engraving of the Cup, Thiessen was invited to participate in the on-ice victory celebration at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit following the Penguins’ game-seven triumph and was included in Pittsburgh’s team photo following their win.
“It was amazing to be able to go from taking tests to watching guys lift the Stanley Cup and being right there as a part of it just along for the ride,” said Thiessen. “I remember the veteran guys like Bill Guerin and Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi—how much it meant to them to, so close to the end of their career, be able to win the Cup and how much they went through to get it. It was just a really good learning experience for me stepping into the pro game.”
An experience that, seven years later, sends the Lake Erie faithful to bed night after night, dreaming that an undersized, undrafted goalie could one day bring another Cup, the Calder, to the streets of downtown Cleveland.