|The Manchester Monarchs' Danny Taylor was named January's AHL goaltender of the month.
When it comes to writing his own underdog story, Manchester Monarchs rookie goalie Danny Taylor prefers to go by the book. Not necessarily a textbook of his position, but something a little more personal.
Monarchs coach Mark Morris recently walked by it on the floor of his team’s dressing room and stopped to move it out of the way. Morris noticed it was a journal. Taylor’s personal journal, to be more specific. Taylor has been keeping it for more than a season to sharpen his heart and mind for the game.
“It’s just little reminders, stuff to work on. There’s so much stuff to work on,’’ Taylor said. “Sometimes you forget. You had a bad practice, you want to forget about it. But you have to remember it, go back and work on it.’’
Oh, there’s so much for Taylor to remember. Like how the Los Angeles had to tear apart and rebuild his goalie style last season. And how he then passed though three wildly different ECHL outposts last season. And how he could barely find ice time in Manchester at the start of this season as the third of three goalies in camp.
Then there’s vindication, or as close to someone in his position can come to such a concept.
During January, Taylor posted a mark of 5-0-0 with a 0.87 goals-against average, a .972 save percentage and three consecutive shutouts. He also began a run in which he went 336:31 without surrendering an even-strength goal.
That effort earned him two things. He was named the league’s goalie of the month. And he was allowed to keep his job on the goalie-overloaded Monarchs, for now.
“If he wasn’t playing as well as he’s playing, we’d look to assign him (to the ECHL),’’ said Kings Assistant GM Ron Hextall. “The one thing that Danny’s done is he’s been persistent. He’s a very prepared kid who is serious about being a player.”
Regardless of how much farther he goes in the pro game, Taylor, 21, already holds the unique distinction of being one of the few AHL players ever born in England. He spent only two years there before moving to Ottawa, but he still frequently visits the homeland of himself and his mother, Diane, who maintains her crisp British clip.
“My mom has the thick accent. She still calls me Daniel when I’m in trouble,’’ Danny said. “No one else does. It’s hilarious.’’
If Taylor had just traveled from England to Ottawa to the pros, the trip would have been a long one regardless. But in many ways, it seems so much bumpier.
Taylor, a seventh-round pick by the Kings in the 2004 draft, wanted to return to his junior team last season. But Los Angeles urged him to start his pro education, and Taylor agreed. He looped among three ECHL teams – Bakersfield, Calif., Wheeling, West Va., and the Texas Wildcatters.
“That whole year wasn’t fun. It worked out for the best, looking at it now,’’ Taylor said. “I did learn a lot about pro hockey, so I can’t say I regretted it. Sticking it out last year got me stronger mentally on and off the ice.’’
Taylor had to battle through LA’s revamping of his style. The Kings changed his glove position, lowering it down from shoulder-height. They tweaked his stance, making it a little narrower.
“It was really hard, adjusting to what they wanted me to play like,’’ Taylor said. “I’m just reading the play a lot better than I was last year. I’m positionally sound and quicker on my feet.’’
Then, there was the matter of his psyche. Understandably unsure of himself, Taylor’s confidence suffered. He bent the ear of Ottawa-based sports psychologist Carol Sinclair, with whom he’s been working since he was 16. He started keeping his journal, entering a half-page worth of notes every game day.
“I’m really nervous before and during a game,’’ Taylor said. “There’s a lot of anxiety I get. She (Sinclair) really helps control the nerves. There’s a lot that goes into mental preparation for a game.’’
“The one thing that Danny’s done is he’s been persistent. He’s a very prepared kid who is serious about being a player.” - Kings Assistant GM Ron Hextall
Taylor has needed every ounce of that fortification this season. The Monarchs’ goalie evolution has been maze-like, but here’s a boiled-down version.
At the beginning of the season, Taylor was the No. 3 goaltender and came on the ice at the end of practice after Erik Ersberg and Dan Cloutier got their work done. Cloutier was then sidelined with a hip injury, and Taylor switched places with Jonathan Quick in Reading of the ECHL. Quick was then called up to L.A. and Taylor returned to Manchester, where he immediately started lobbying for attention with his play.
“It was play well or get sent down. It was desperation that I played so well (in January),’’ Taylor said. “I like the challenge. I have to keep it going.’’
Cloutier then returned from his injury, briefly giving the Monarchs the services of him, Taylor and Ersberg. Last week, Cloutier was recalled to the Kings, who then shipped Jean-Sebastien Aubin to Manchester.
Meanwhile, the one constant has been the excellence of Taylor, who is 8-3 overall with a .936 save percentage and a 2.00 goals-against.
“I give Danny Taylor tons of credit for going from a guy who didn’t have a place to play at the start of the season to a guy with a hot hand,’’ Morris said. “It’s a credit to him. He’s studied his position hard.’’
Taylor has little choice. The unfolding chapters of his personal self-help guide are becoming real page-turners. How it ends is up to him.
“I don’t take it personally. I understand the business,’’ he said. “I think every goalie gets their chance in pro hockey. It’s what you do with that opportunity that dictates your career.’’