Slowly but surely, the list grows.
Okay, so Artyom Zagidulin isn't exactly a walking Merriam-Webster dictionary, yet, but he's working on it.
"'Breakfast,' 'one-hundred percent,' 'no,' " chuckles Heat goaltending coach Thomas Speer, while running through Zagidulin's English vocabulary. "'See you later', he's been throwing that around, too."
As the Russian netminder has started to punch holes through the language barrier, he's also been acclimating to the North American game with positive results.
He hasn't said 'shutout' yet on record, but he definitely knows what that is, having recorded a pair of those over his last five starts.
A wild card between the pipes for the Flames organization, Zagidulin was signed as a 24-year-old prospect with solid numbers out of Russia. He was sent to Stockton for some seasoning, allowing him time to simmer on a smaller sheet than he was used to in Europe.
Heading into the AHL All-Star break, 'Big Snag Zag' has posted respectable numbers with 14 wins, a 3.00 Goals Against Average and .900 Save Percentage. He's started really hitting his stride in 2020, though, with a 2.03 GAA, .925 SVP and just 11 goals against in six starts - numbers that have been bruised by one off night in that span at Ontario.
For student and pupil, it's been a learning experience. Speer, a coach who joined the Heat from a gig overseeing USA Hockey's goalie development, has had to get creative. There's a lot of miming, some help from fellow Stockton goaltender Jon Gillies in running through drills so Zagidulin can watch first, an extra body in the room for film study, and even some phone-a-friends.
The drills are the easy part, but with film breakdown being a critical part of development, Speer has had to call in help. That comes from rookie defenceman Alexander Yelesin, another first-year Russian import, who sits in to help translate. When the terms get more technical, Speer calls up to Calgary's Iya Gavrilova (more on her here) to decipher the linguistics.
"For the most part, if I point to the screen he'll understand what I'm talking about," says Speer. "The language is different but the sport is the same."
So what's caused the spike in saves?
"I don't think really anybody knew how his game was going to translate," said Speer with Zagidulin having to adjust to the smaller sheet and higher pace of the North American game. "You add the fact that he's a high-IQ goalie, a great person who works hard, it's been going really well. He had a couple games where it got away from him in the beginning that hurt his numbers, but he's held us in some games. There's a reason he's 14-4-5."
The hockey sense is matched with pure-athleticism, and as the Heat have solidified the defensive play in front of him, the club has risen up the defensive ranks. At the start of December, Stockton ranked 26th in the AHL at 3.35 goals against per game. Into the All-Star break, the Heat have catapulted to 12th at 2.93.
Physical gifts aside, with half a year under his belt in the AHL, the progress has been noticeable.
"He's always been an athletic, 'blocky' goalie, but he's come a long way with his rebound control. He's adapted to the North American style really well."
As the building blocks add up on his development, the question remains - just how high is Zagidulin's ceiling?
"In my opinion, and I've only been coaching in the American League for a little while but I've been around a bunch of NHL goalies," prefaces Speer. "There's no doubt in my mind that he can be an NHL goalie.
"If he ever got the call, I know he'd be ready to go. He'd definitely give Calgary his best."
- Stockton dropped an overtime contest against Ontario on Friday, giving the Heat a record of 24-10-3-3 heading into the All-Star break.
- The Heat rank third in the AHL with a .657 point percentage into the All-Star break and are just three points back of Tucson for first place in the Pacific Division.
- Stockton's .857 point percentage (16-1-2-2) when scoring first is tops in the AHL.
- AHL All-Star Glenn Gawdin has bounced back from a five-game dry spell with four goals in four games. More on Gawdin here.
- Alan Quine has five points over Stockton's last three games.
THEY SAID IT:
"Very disappointing to give up a goal with two minutes left, but for us to be able to refocus and go out and find a way to tie it up is important. It's a positive from tonight. That's something that we like. It gets us to overtime, and then we just need to finish it off." - MacLean on Stockton's goal with 3.7 seconds remaining to push Friday's game to overtime
"(Zagidulin) has been solid. He had one rough outing there, but he's been consistent and strong. Almost every time he's in the net he's giving us a chance to win." - MacLean on Zagidulin's play since the start of January
"I like where we're at at this point. We've got a really strong group, led by strong leadership. I think that we have the ability to be really good, and we've done a good job of playing our game. We have to now take it to another level. You're looking at a really good shot at playoffs, but you can't take anything for granted. We have to make sure we get better as the rest of the league will get better and we play a more consistent, competitive and responsible kind of game. We've got the scoring, but we have to make sure we do all of those little things that will put us in a position to have our scoring matter." - MacLean on where Stockton stands
"Just sticking with it. There was a tough five-game span there, but just trying to do the little things to get me out of it. It worked. Going forward, those little things are going to be big for me." - Gawdin on his offensive outburst heading into the All-Star Classic
"We want to build off what we've done to date. Obviously enjoying the break and rest up, but once we come back it's back to work." - Gawdin on entering the playoff race following the All-Star break.