by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com
Worcester Sharks rookie goalie Alex Stalock was so impressive at Adirondack on opening night Oct. 3 that he had San Jose goalie coach Corey Schwab experiencing flashbacks.
They stretched all the way back to the 1992-93 season, when Schwab minded the net for the Utica Devils of the AHL. He shared time on that team with some unproven kid named Martin Brodeur.
Even back then, Brodeur’s stickhandling was becoming legendary. In the very same Glens Falls barn in which Schwab watched Stalock frolic, Schwab recalled backing up Brodeur for a contest in which he recorded three assists against the old Adirondack Red Wings.
Schwab wasn’t making a comparison of Stalock to Brodeur just yet, but he sure saw some double vision regarding their artwork with the paddle.
"I don’t see a lot of difference there," Schwab said. "It’s one thing to be able to shoot the puck. It’s another to be able to read the play. He (Stalock) does very well at reading the play and reading his teammates."
Oh, and more importantly, Stalock opened his pro career with a win, denying 28 of 30 Phantoms shots along the way. The newcomer fresh out of Minnesota-Duluth showed a little Brodeur-esque cool by snagging two points from the grips of 5,411 rabid fans of the new Adirondack franchise.
"It is a big deal, being a rookie, coming in you want to make an impact," said Stalock, 22. "You have to be mature. You can’t be nervous. Your time is now. You don’t have time to sit back. When it’s going to come around, it’s going to come around."
Stalock, a fourth-round pick by San Jose in 2005, always has been a perpetual man in motion on the ice. Like many young goalies, he skated out a lot and played forward in youth hockey. That planted the seed that hand, stick and puck could all act in concert, and puck movement was as much a chess game as a reflex.
"I loved playing forward. That’s one thing I miss about the game," Stalock said. "I think it’s just the passion of having the puck in your hands. You want to make the play."
Stalock eventually settled back in the crease – just barely – and began directing traffic from there. By the time he was a junior at Minnesota-Duluth, he was one of the best goalies in the country. He paced the nation in minutes played (2,534) and was 11th in goals-against (2.13).
"I wanted to make steps every year," he said. "I think that’s what I did."
After his junior season, the issue became whether it was time for Stalock to start climbing toward a different level. There was little question he could return and dominate for another season in college. But the Sharks and Stalock agreed that his window for development was more wide open in the AHL.
"He felt he’s ready to move on to the pro game," Schwab said. "From what I’ve seen, he’s made a good decision."
College was over, but Stalock’s education was just beginning. First, there’s that pesky little trapezoid behind the goal in pro hockey that marks off where the netminder is allowed to play the puck. Heck, when it comes to Stalock you might as well drop steel bars around the crease and feed him his meals through a small slot.
"I have to watch myself. It has to be in the back of your head. A couple of times you will have a close call," Stalock said. "You have to be smart making the decision (to play the puck). That’s probably the toughest part, making a decision quickly. It (the trapezoid) is part of the game. You have to dance with it."
Stalock’s also had to learn how to do the two-step with his emotions. In college, he admitted to a little overflow fury, occasionally drawing a penalty for extra-curricular stickwork. Those sorts of costly lapses are never good, but there’s little tolerance for them in the land of pay-for-play hockey.
"I’d get frustrated quite a bit when I give up a goal," Stalock said. "I’d show my emotions. I think it’s just being competitive. It’s never a good feeling when you lose. That’s one thing that comes with my personality. You almost have to expect to win. That’s one thing that winning teams learn."
Schwab said Stalock doesn’t need much recalibration to channel that sense of urgency toward a productive direction.
"It’s not in a negative way that he has a lot of energy, a lot of competition," he said. "Whatever drill we’re doing, he’s competing. He has that extra fire in him to do whatever he can."
Usually that fuels an engine that makes Stalock a goalie on the move, looking to create something. Even when there’s nothing there, he understands the perpetual effort required to, at the very least, keep pace with his fast new company.
"I want to have that mindset I’m ready for the league. I want to make a difference right away," he said. "You learn something new every day. The team is moving forward. You want to be moving forward with them."
Lindsay Kramer, the AHL correspondent for NHL.com, profiles an up-and-coming player each Monday during the season, and his AHL notebook appears each Thursday on NHL.com.