by Stephen Gross | AHL On The Beat
At the end of a practice three days before Thanksgiving, Alex Lyon stood in goal at the east end of PPL Center.
Two Lehigh Valley Phantoms teammates, Nic Aube-Kubel and Phil Varone, joined him. In a rapid-fire drill, the forwards alternated shooting on Lyon from a just past the faceoff dots, positioned on either side of the slot. It was two and a half weeks before the netminder turned 25 and he was in the midst of his first prolonged pro struggles.
He had allowed two or more goals in eight straight AHL games, with three or more in six of eight games. During three games in that stretch, he gave up four or more goals. And he allowed 10 more goals over the next three games, with at least three in each contest.
It appeared the second-year pro was in a zone that morning in practice, making save after save, until he let two goals in just seconds apart. They were the only two he let in during the approximately five minutes spent on the drill, but Lyon was not pleased. After the first goal, Lyon turned his back on the shooters and slammed his stick on the crossbar. After the second there was a yell from underneath his mask.
He admits he was frustrated. Phantoms coach Scott Gordon thought he knew what Lyon was going through at the time though.
“He’s probably saying to himself ‘I know what I did wrong, shame on me,’” Gordon said following that practice. “Versus when they’re going in and you don’t have an answer and you just keep standing in there and they keep shooting, they keep scoring.”
Gordon said goalies able to address issues right away in an attempt to fix what is wrong are the ones who avoid long slumps. So Lyon kept tinkering, making subtle changes to his game.
It’s paying off; he’s won three straight games and has allowed just two goals or fewer in six of his last eight, including a 41-save performance in the 2018 AHL Outdoor Classic, a 5-2 win over Hershey.
Now, months later, Lyon vividly remembers the November practice. He doesn’t necessarily think that was a turning point – he couldn’t put his finger on any one thing that sparked the turnaround.
One thing that did help – confidence from brief stints in the NHL.
He spent 20 days up with the Flyers in December and was recalled a second time on Thursday for just a few hours, though he has yet to appear in a game at hockey’s highest level.
During his time with the Flyers, he watched their starter Brian Elliot, along with opposing goaltenders like Jonathan Quick and Sergei Bobrovsky. He also faced shots from NHL players in practice. Things started to click for the netminder.
“It all just comes down to mental confidence, focus,” Lyon said. “Who can be the most stable? And I think with that philosophy the sky’s the limit at the same time. You can pull yourself out of struggles like that.”
And as far as mental confidence and focus go, it appears Lyon is as strong in that area as anybody. Don’t believe it? Just ask the goalie, who is about one semester shy of graduating from Yale with a degree in political science, to read the last paper he wrote. It was on nuclear deterrent.
“I basically argued for why there will never be nuclear war or another nuclear bomb will never be dropped,” Lyon said. “We were talking about it this summer. I actually pulled the paper and out re-read it just to get a little more knowledge.”
While Lyon likes talking nuclear war and political science, there is one thing that has recently helped minimize his interest – the polarization in the United Sates. He wants people to be able to see where people who have different beliefs than themselves are coming from.
“I guess I’m more of a radical in the way that I just think that our biggest problem is polarization rather than this, or this, or this,” Lyon said. “Everyone has their own opinions and beliefs, but I just ask that you have the ability to at least understand the other side. That’s the biggest issue.”
Yale may sound impressive but it’s nothing new for the Lyon family. The Phantoms goalie is the sixth person in his family to attend. Although Lyon is quick to note there’s not exactly a family dynasty; both his father and grandfather were asked to leave the school after two years and get their lives figured out before they returned. Lyon left after his third year, but obviously on much better terms. He’s not sure exactly when he will finish but he is allowed two transfer credits and already has explored taking classes at Penn this summer. To help him get as close as he is, he knocked out three online classes the summer after he left Yale and signed with the Flyers.
Lyon’s last hurdle will be his senior thesis, which will be on nuclear war and has to be written on campus. His goal is to get close enough so that he’ll be able to finish his thesis and his last few credits right along with it. He will finish it though, if for nothing more than the pride of having his degree.
For now, it will have to wait.
Lyon current priority is not only continuing his recent improvement but also proving he deserves a chance in the NHL.
“Just seeing those [NHL] guys, you see them, [you’re] impressed then it’s like ‘I think that I can do that,’ Lyon said. “’I think I can get there.’ That’s all I’m focusing on now, getting to be an elite goalie and just kind of have patience and trust the process.”