In his 39-save performance in Thursday night’s WCHA Final Five play-in game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers, Minnesota Duluth Bulldog goaltender Alex Stalock once again showed why he earned first-team honors as well as the league’s goaltending award.
Stalock was all over the ice to stop shots, with no save quite so awe-inspiring as his stop on Minnesota defenseman Cade Fairchild with 8:47 left to play when he flopped perfectly on the ice while jumping back across the crease to stop Fairchild’s power-play shot.
“We had some good looks and he had some good saves,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia, quite succinctly.
“Our best player was our best player [tonight],” said Bulldog coach Scott Sandelin.
Stalock got help from his teammates who swarmed their own defensive zone, clogging the passing lanes, but when shots did get through and the Gophers got their chances, he was right there to slam the door.
The goaltender also got a little luck, which never hurts. Ninety seconds after the aforementioned stop on Fairchild, Stalock somehow stopped a Nico Sacchetti shot that was going in the net through Stalock’s five-hole when it appeared to hit the inside of his left leg and slid harmlessly into the corner.
“I felt confident the whole night,” said Stalock, adding that it started with killing an early Gopher five-on-three advantage five minutes into the first period.
The confidence almost carried Stalock, the league’s goaltending champion with a 2.39 goals against average in league play, to a shutout, with his only goal against bouncing in past him off his own defenseman’s shin pad.
However, the keeper’s confidence and control is something he’s had to work for. And as any leader is wont to do, he sometimes tries to take too much into his own hands.
“That’s one thing he’s matured at as far as not going out there and doing too much and if we do [notice], we try to get the message to just get back to doing what he does best,” said Sandelin.
“When he did start doing [that], I gave him the old [gestures a “calm down” motion] and he gave me the stick wave, so it’s good we’ve kind of got each other figured out,” Sandelin continued. “But again, he was in control. The saves he made, there’s times he makes a lot of those saves look real easy even though they’re not.
“Obviously there were quite a few that weren’t easy, but he’s very athletic, very focused, very determined and I think you saw that tonight.”
As of yet, no play-in game winner has won the WCHA Final Five, but with Stalock in net along with the league’s second-best power play, the Bulldogs will be a threat to do so.