by Greg Rosa || AHL On The Beat Archive
From an organization standpoint, positional depth is one of the main objectives to building a successful team.
With both goaltending positions locked up with the big club, the Monarchs’ netminders have been able to find a rhythm in Manchester.
Finding a rhythm as a goaltender is not always easy. For Monarchs netminder Jeff Zatkoff, the 2010-11 season started a little slow in Manchester before he found his groove and poise in between the pipes. In the off-season, Zatkoff was determined to begin the 2011-12 season at the level he ended last year, when he earned the Reebok/AHL Goaltender of the Month honor for March 2011.
“I think I’ve had the start I was looking for,” said Zatkoff, a third-round draft pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. “Especially after last year, I didn’t start the season the way I wanted to so I wanted to put a big focus on it this year. I’ve been able to work on some things over the summer and build up my confidence and just kind of roll it into the start of the year.”
Zatkoff’s off-season approach has worked as he enjoyed a solid training camp with the Kings who rewarded him by bringing him with the team to start the season in Europe at the 2011 Compuware NHL Premiere Challenge.
“I think that was a great experience for me, just to be able to go over there and learn from those guys and see the way they prepare and just to be around the big club,” reflected Zatkoff. “I think anytime you get a chance to be out there (Los Angeles), it’s a boost in your morale. I just wanted to come back here and carry it over and kind of build on the training camp that I had.”
There is no doubt that Zatkoff has carried that momentum into each of his first 18 appearances with the Monarchs this season. He has posted a 10-5-1 record with a 2.16 goals-against average which currently ranks fourth in the league and a .933 save percentage which is good for second. Zatkoff was also named the Reebok/AHL Goaltender of the Month for December after he posted a 5-2-0 record with a 1.70 GAA and a .946 save percentage.
Zatkoff’s play has given the team assurance whenever he is in net.
“This first half has been great for his confidence and has certainly given this group the stability and the opportunity to be up there in the top of our league,” said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. “If you were to look at his game this year compared to the past, it is very apparent that he carries himself with a lot of confidence. His puck handling has improved. He looks bigger in the net. I think our guys are really happy knowing that he is back there and if we need him then he is going to step up.”
Zatkoff’s impressive start has produced his first career AHL All-Star berth, alongside teammate and defenseman Thomas Hickey. The two players will represent the Eastern Conference at the 2012 AHL All-Star Classic at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., on Jan. 29-30.
Zatkoff’s accomplishment is well deserved, but do not expect him to take all the credit.
“It’s a nice personal accomplishment but it is not all personal,” said Zatkoff about being named an All-Star. “A lot of it is the way the team is playing. If were not playing well, I don’t have a chance to win this award so it is as much as those guys in the locker room as it is me. The ‘D’ do a great job blocking shots, as do the forwards. We have been playing a great defensive game and you know it allows me to keep the numbers up and the goals down.”
Zatkoff not only credits his teammates but is also quick to praise Kings goaltending coaches Bill Ranford and Kim Dillabaugh.
“I stay in touch with them, you know, talk to them once a week. We all get the game tapes emailed to us,” stated Zatkoff. “We go over them, as far as technique and style. Every goalie is going to be different, but I think we have those common core values and techniques that we want to stay true to and that has been a big part of my success. Without those guys I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
The old adage that success begins with goaltending can be said to be working in Manchester. The Monarchs are among the top teams in the Eastern Conference with 44 points and can attribute their success to strong goaltending.