|Goaltender Daniel Taylor has beaten the odds by making it all the way to the NHL. Taylor will aim to continue to defy probability this upcoming season, as he will battle a cast of young netminders for a spot on the Los Angeles Kings roster.
Relive the Miracle on Manchester
But Taylor has already defied the odds by getting this far. As a seventh-round pick in the 2004 Entry Draft, the odds of Taylor ever getting to the NHL were a lot longer than the 5,365 miles between Plymouth, England, where he was born, and Los Angeles.
"I know the odds are against me, but I enjoy the challenge," he said.
For Taylor, the challenges have included overcoming his status as the 221st pick four years ago and finding playing time with a franchise overstaffed in goal -- not to mention being one of the few NHL players born in England.
"My mother is British and I was born in Plymouth," he said. "My old man was in the Army overseas, and that's how my mom and my dad met. I was born in Plymouth, and we moved to Canada when I was 2 and my brother was 5. I grew up in Canada but I was born in England."
Taylor and his family moved to Ottawa, and he got into hockey with a push from his older brother.
"I was kind of forced into it by my brother. He loved hockey, and he needed someone to shoot at," he said of becoming a goaltender. "It wasn't voluntary, that's for sure."
Taylor spent three seasons in junior before turning pro, then began his own version of the Johnny Cash song "I've Been Everywhere."
With the Kings swimming in goaltenders, Taylor spent 2006-07, his first pro season, traveling the country while playing for Wheeling, Bakersfield and Texas in the ECHL.
"It wasn't a lot of fun, though I did learn a lot about pro hockey," he said. "It made me stronger mentally on and off the ice."
Along the way, the Kings completely remodeled his goaltending style, getting him to lower his glove and narrow his stance. It wasn't easy, but it worked.
"It was hard, adjusting to what they wanted me to play like," Taylor said, "but I'm positionally sound and quicker on my feet."
Taylor stayed on the move again this past season, going from Reading of the ECHL to Manchester, the Kings' AHL farm team, where he blossomed and showed enough to earn his brief chance in the NHL.
After starting the season in Reading, where he got into only five games as the Kings shuffled goaltenders through their system, Taylor excelled in Manchester, going 13-5-2 in 23 appearances with a 2.40 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage, including a 5-0-0 record in January that earned him AHL Goalie of the Month honors. For the first time, he looked more like a prospect than organizational filler.
"I moved around quite a bit, but I was in Manchester most of the season, which was good," he said. "It was good to be around an atmosphere where there are a lot of young prospects. I could learn from them and there was good coaching up there."
When injuries decimated the Kings' goaltending corps, Taylor realized his dream when he was called up in late March. On March 29, with the Kings trailing 5-1 after two periods, Taylor was surprised to hear that he would finally get a chance to play.
"(Coach Marc) Crawford, with about four or five minutes to go before the third period started, gave a speech. At the end of the speech, he said, 'Tales, you're going to start the third.' I couldn't believe it. I had to turn to Erik (Ersberg) next to me to make sure I heard right, because I didn't think it was real," he said.
"I went to the washroom -- I didn't feel so well. Then I got all my gear ready and I was the last guy out. When I got to the bench, everyone was waiting there for me -- about 30 seconds before the puck dropped. I didn't have time to do my (warmup) routine -- it's like a minute-long routine, so I didn't have time to do that. I just got right into it -- I didn't have time to think about it."
Alas, he had too much time to think before seeing a shot.
"I remember the first three minutes, I didn't get a shot," he said. "Then when a shot finally did happen, it was quite quick. It was a stretch pass, and (Jere) Lehtinen spring free. He got off a quick shot that went under the bar. I don't think I'd seen a shot like that before. I did all right after that. Luckily, I got my (next) shot about 30 seconds later and kind of settled in after that."
Taylor made eight third-period saves in the 7-2 loss, his only NHL appearance. He spent time after that shuttling between Los Angeles and Reading, where he needed enough appearances to qualify for the playoffs.
|Taylor was originally born in England, and developed his passion for hockey as a child when his older brother helped introduce him to the game soon after the family moved to Ottawa.
"That was crazy too -- flying five hours three times in about 10 days," he said. "But I'd do that all the time if I could get called up to the NHL and play there. I'll do whatever it takes to get there."
For Taylor, "whatever" includes keeping a journal that helps him keep track of what he's doing well and what areas he needs to work on.
"It's just basically little reminders that I write down before the game -- things to focus on," he said. "It helps me to focus on one thing and not try to think about too much. I write down two or three things before the game, and then after the game, I reflect on what I did well and what I didn't do well and try to think about what I can do better, and I write that down. When I look back at the end of the year, or even a month later, I can see 'I've got to get better at this' or 'I've got to get better at that.'
"It's interesting to see if it's really a common thing, whether it's rebound control or puck focus, or just any kind of problem. It's really good to know what your weaknesses are so you can try to get better at them to become a better player."
The journal helps him combat what he says is one of his biggest problems -- overthinking.
"I think that's one of my problems -- I have to try to watch the puck and be calm in there and focus on stopping it," he said. "Sometimes I overthink it -- I'm all over the place. That's what happened when I played in L.A. -- I was all over the place, just moving too much, when all I had to do was be calm in the net and focus on the puck. It's neat to keep the journal and look back on mistakes."
With the Kings' organization still chock-full of young goaltenders, Taylor has no idea where he'll be playing in the fall. No matter where it is, he'll be ready.
"They haven't spoken to me too much about their plans. I have no idea," he said of what city he'll call home in 2008-09. "I'm just going to go into camp as prepared as I can, physically and mentally, and be ready for whatever happens. All I can control is the way I play. Whether I'm in the East Coast (League) or the NHL, I'm going to give it my best and try to win every game I play.
"As a young kid growing up, all I ever wanted to do in my life was play in the NHL. Getting a chance to play was an experience I'll never forget."
And one he hopes to repeat on a regular basis.