On the first day of the rest of his life, Anthony Stolarz woke up Monday and simply went back to work. He can do that now with a clearer head, simply free of one big thought that was on his and lots of people's minds - that of when the first NHL game would come.
It came Sunday, a successful NHL debut against Calgary. As fortune would have it, it came at home. There were times last season where Stolarz had the potential to make his first NHL start in Nashville or Denver or Glendale, far-off places where even his parents would have had to scramble to reach at the last minute. Instead, it came in Philadelphia, an hour and change from Stolarz's home base in central New Jersey, with a day's notice.
As such, it made for an ideal situation for Stolarz supporters. His immediate family watched from a Wells Fargo Center suite. Three unidentified individuals sat next to one another in lower level seats, each sporting a different STOLARZ jersey - two were from the Phantoms, one was from the London Knights, and none are widely available, so it suggested some sort of affiliation with the goaltender. Lou Nolan's announcement of Stolarz's name in the starting lineup easily drew the loudest ovation of the introductions.
"I had a lot of friends at the game, and afterwards I had a lot of snapchats of the actual game and a lot of texts," Stolarz said. "So it was nice to see the support and that they were able to come out and cheer me on."
Anyone who's watched a friend or relative play goalie in a hockey game at any age knows that it's a bit of an edge-of-your-seat situation just waiting for the puck to come to that goalie's end, and seeing what happens when it does. It probably heightened the anxiety of Stolarz's contingent a bit that the puck didn't make it down to the Flyers' end for what seemed like an eternity, and really it sort of was - it took five minutes and 46 seconds of game action before Calgary's Alex Chiasson fired the first shot of Stolarz's career.
And then the second one went in.
In hockey parlance, it goes down as one Stolarz "would wish he had back." It was a two-on-one, shorthanded, a bit of a muffin off the backhand of T.J. Brodie, a defenseman with 25 goals to his credit in 390 games before last night. Normally a backhander from a defensive defenseman isn't much for a goaltender to worry about. It may actually have been a lack of force on the shot that fooled Stolarz a bit, and the puck handcuffed him, slipping just under his wrist below the base of his glove.
But that goal wouldn't define Stolarz's debut - his recovery from it did. And as a result, it just became a footnote, something he can tell stories about someday.
"They didn't have any shots for a couple minutes there and didn't want to give up that first goal," Stolarz said. "But you know, it happens and I guess you can say I got it out of the way early. I kind of settled in after that first goal. Calmed down a little bit. The jitters went away and I was just able to go out there and play."
"If anything, it's almost a relief to get that first goal out of the way," said Steve Mason, who served as Stolarz's support system and sounding board on the bench. "We actually had a lot of conversation during stoppages in play when he'd come over during TV timeouts and everything. He was calm the entire time. He bounced right back after it. He made some key saves right after that and gave the team a chance to really get going there in the second period."
From that point on, it was really a quiet night. Calgary's chances were few and far between, but when they came, Stolarz was up to the task. He made a couple sequences of excellent back-to-back saves. Like any successful goaltender, he got a little help from his friends, such as when Nick Cousins slammed shut a slightly-open back door on a Calgary wrap-around attempt in the first period. Calgary picked up a pretty power play goal from Matthew Tkachuk that not many people would have stopped, and another shorthanded goal that came too late to mean anything.
"He had a lot of poise in there, his rebound control was for the most part bang-on, especially in his chest area," Mason said. "He was really good with his control off the chest. That's something we work on every single day, and now that he's up here working every single day with us, you can see where it paid off last night. It seemed for the most part off the rush he was reading it well. He's got something to build off there for sure. I couldn't be happier for him."
Whatever comes next for Stolarz will be a little more routine, with a little less hype. It will come whenever is best for the team, as does everything that Dave Hakstol does with his lineup.
"I thought he did a good job," Hakstol said. "I think he's come up here this time in a little bit different role potentially than what he was last year. He's been ready to play each and every day in terms of his preparation, and that's what his role remains. He needs to remain ready for his next start, whenever that may come."Video: Hakstol on Schenn and other line combinations
Whenever it does, Stolarz will be ready. In the meantime, he's just going back to the office.
"I think it's up to the coaching staff," he said. "For my first game, the biggest thing for me was going out and getting a win. Now it's back to work, taking it day by day, and just working on things that I can clean up and going over video with Dilly and just gotta keep working hard."