Don’t call it a comeback

Photo: Mark Nessia

📝 by Ryan Holt | AHL On The Beat

The Bakersfield Condors’ Alex Stalock is a goaltender. Protector of the nets. A hockey player. A husband and a father of three.

And much like the rest of the world, the past two years have been difficult on the 34-year-old. It was November 2020 when the then-Minnesota Wild goaltender was diagnosed with myocarditis, a heart inflammation that can lead to cardiac arrest and a lingering symptom of COVID-19.

“I was completely asymptomatic,” Stalock told Michael Russo of The Athletic after being claimed on waivers by Edmonton, “but they think because I had no symptoms and had it in my system that because it was right at the time where we were ramping things up with skating and working out and ramping up for the season that my heart was working and working and working and started to get stressed and swell because of the virus in my system.”

Stalock had already gone through “the bubble” playoffs with Minnesota that past August. Little did he know it would be 18 months later that he would get his next opportunity to play.

“Everything felt like it was out of my control,” he said. “Thank God I think it’s behind me. But you spend a lot of time dealing with doctors and it just gets old. To be able to get the green light finally and to come to a group like this that’s playing great hockey, it makes it that much better.”

He’s fortunate. To be back healthy and to be back doing what he loves, something not lost on his head coach.

“We talked the other day about how special and important it feels to come to the rink and put the gear on,” said Condors interim coach Colin Chaulk. “To sweat and be around the guys. When you’re a hockey player, you have what, five, 10, 15 years? It’s a small portion of your existence. He’s a great example for younger players to see how much fun he’s having and how happy he is.”

Stalock has won three straight starts, stopping 25 of 26 shots on Monday to help the Condors to a 5-1 win over Ontario. He was a big part of the team killing off six Reign power plays in the game.

“When you have a guy playing like that, it turns a 5-on-4 into a 5-on-5,” Chaulk said. “Sly (goaltending coach Sylvain Rodrigue) highlighted how he’s gotten better and better with each start.”

Stalock noted it hasn’t been all that easy jumping in mid-season cold.

“These guys are in mid-season shape and I’m trying to play catch-up on the fly,” he joked. “But they make it easy and it’s a fun group to be around and that’s what I’ve found is the recipe for successful teams.”

It was his former head coach Jay Woodcroft, who is now behind the bench in Edmonton, who knew what a special person Alex was to bring into that dressing room at a critical moment of the team’s season.

“I had a prior relationship with Alex going back to our time in San Jose,” Woodcroft said. “He’s a guy that his teammates love and love to be around. He is extremely motivated to get back to the NHL.”

The group is playing well too, having gone through their own adversity of injuries, protocols, and most recently a coaching change. It’s led the team to third in the Pacific and a shot at another second half run toward a long spring.

But no matter where the story goes from here, for both the Condors and their veteran goaltender, some would say the comeback is already complete.