Nolan Schaefer just needed a place to show what he could do this season.
When the goaltender got his chance in his fourth stop, he shined.
Schaefer, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound netminder, excelled once he was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins and assigned Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Feb. 27. The 27-year-old went 9-5-0 with a 2.24 goals-against average in 15 starts with the Baby Penguins.
He was strong in the postseason, too, as he led Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to the Calder Cup East Division Finals, where the team fell to Hershey.
It was quite a finish for the Yellow Grass, Saskatoon, native – and probably one he did not envision when he started the season with San Jose.
“When you look back at his season, he started in San Jose and, at one point, was told he was going to be the backup goalie there,” said Penguins Assistant General Manager Chuck Fletcher, who oversees Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. “He was sent to Worcester (AHL), where they had three goaltenders. So, they moved him to Hershey to give him a chance to play. He went there and really never got a chance to get adjusted.
“Then, he ended up in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. This is a guy who played for four different teams this year and really never had his wife living with him. He was dealt with a lot of adversity off the ice, in terms of situations he thought would happen, never did, and he ended up getting traded late in the year to a team that wanted him and he responded with great hockey. He is another young man that looks like he’s right on the doorstep. His career can certainly get to the next level and he can certainly become an NHL goaltender pretty quickly.”
Schaefer, a former Providence College standout, got his first taste of the NHL in the 2005-06 season with San Jose. He went 5-1-0 and had a 1.88 GAA and .920 save percentage in seven games. He is the first Sharks goaltender to begin his career with five consecutive wins. However, established NHL goalies Evgeny Nabokov and Vesa Toskala were ahead of Schaefer on the Sharks’ depth chart and posed a roadblock to his NHL longevity in San Jose.
The 2000 fifth-round draft pick (166th overall) was assigned to Worcester to begin 2006-07 and later appeared with Hershey, combining for a 5-11-3 record to go along with a 2.93 GAA and .894 save percentage with those clubs.
However, the Penguins had a place for Nolan, the younger brother of Senators winger Peter Schaefer. Pittsburgh acquired the goaltender for a seventh-round pick in this year’s NHL Entry Draft and he quickly responded.
In his first 11 games, Schaefer posted an 8-3-0 record with a 1.98 GAA, a .918 save percentage (22 goals agains/267 shots) and one shutout. It earned him the Rbk X-Pulse/AHL Goaltender of the Month award in March.
“We picked him up at the end of February and he was the AHL goaltender of the month in March,” Fletcher said. “He played very well through the playoffs for us. He was a big factor in our success against Norfolk in the first round. In the only game we beat Hershey, he stole the game for us. He literally made 10 tremendous, NHL-caliber, point-blank saves to allow us to win that game when Hershey should have really beaten us in Game 4. I think we’re very pleased with how Nolan performed.”