By Jason Karnosky
Often overlooked despite his stellar play with the Milwaukee Admirals, goaltender Mark Dekanich is using his smarts and work ethic in hopes of sticking at the National Hockey League level.
When observers scout the American Hockey League ranks looking for the league’s elite goaltenders, it seems like it can be hard to overlook Mark Dekanich. However, that is exactly what has happened to the 24-year old netminder so far this season.
All Dekanich has done during his time with the Milwaukee Admirals is provide the backbone of a team that’s currently sits in a tie for seventh place with a record of 13-7-5. Yet for Dekanich there has been no AHL Goaltender of the Month award, or even a Player of the Week honor.
But Dekanich remains undeterred. He just wants to help his team win.
“I’ve had a lot of speed bumps in my career,” Dekanich said. “I’ve always kind of been underrated and under respected, (but) I’ll just take what they give me and keep doing my own thing.”
Dekanich’s 2010-11 statistics have been staggering so far. He sports a 1.71 goals against average and a .941 save percentage in 17 games of AHL action. Those numbers just happen to be the league’s best of any goaltender that’s played in over half of his team’s games.
“I can’t really put a finger on why I’ve been so successful this year,” Dekanich said. “(But usually) my success has been related to working hard during my pro career. I am always trying to prepare myself mentally, but this year I really wanted to get off to good start. That was one of my goals.”
Consider that goal accomplished. Dekanich sports a record of 10-3-3 during his time in Milwaukee this season.
“He’s been stellar for us,” Admirals coach Lane Lambert said. “He’s focused and he’s given us a chance to win every night . . . It gives your whole group confidence when your goaltender is playing so well.”
That confidence is something that Milwaukee defensemen like Scott Ford really appreciate.
“(Playing well in our own end) is a confidence thing and it’s about trusting each other on the ice,” Milwaukee’s captain said. “We’re able to trust that he’s going to make that first save, so we don’t have to move out of position and try to play goal ourselves. (Instead) we can our do our job, which is clearing rebounds and opponents away from the front of our net.”
With a young and growing squad in Milwaukee, the Admirals are prone to defensive lapses from time to time. Dekanich’s superb play has mitigated some the negatives that resulted, allowing Milwaukee the freedom to learn on the fly.
“I think we’ve gotten away with some of our mistakes because Dekanich has made the saves he’s needed to make to help us out,” Lambert said.
The Admirals are also a team that can be offensively challenged at times. Therefore some nights it is up to Dekanich to keep the scoreboard close and to give his club the best shot at victory.
“With the type of team we have in Milwaukee, we’re not going to score that many goals,” Dekanich said. “(Therefore) we have to keep the goals against down every night to even have a chance at winning. I prepare myself for that mentality (prior to games).”
Ford knows just how valuable Dekanich has been, especially on the nights when they see it in his eyes that he is determined to not let any pucks by.
“When he’s playing that phenomenal and he’s coming up those huge saves at key moments in the game, it has really catapulted us to (much of) our success,” Ford said. “Every time he’s played he has given us a chance to win.”
Dekanich’s success early in the season led to a brief promotion to the National Hockey League in mid-October, where he served a five-day stint as Nashville Predators as backup goaltender Anders Lindback
“Playing with that caliber of players every day in practice and just watching from the bench was a great learning experience,” Dekanich said. “That’s how you get better, and it was great that I was able to get that chance.”
During his first 2010-11 call up, Dekanich impressed Predators Head Coach Barry Trotz as a goaltender and as a competitor.
“There’s no question that (Dekanich) is going to play in the National Hockey League,” Trotz said. “Dex is an extremely good athlete, who’s very receptive to learning and working at his craft. He has that bulldog mentality.”
For Trotz, Dekanich possesses attributes similar a former Predators goaltender that had a lot of success playing in the Music City.
“He reminds me of Chris Mason so much in terms of his desire, his want and his understanding of his craft,” Trotz said. “He has the desire to push himself to being as good as he can be.”
When Nashville’s starting goaltender Pekka Rinne
suffered a knee injury on Dec. 1 at Columbus, Dekanich earned another call up to the Predators.
“It’s well deserved by Dex to come up to the NHL level,” Trotz said. “I don’t know how many games he will play. We will see how long Pekka is out and how well Anders plays.”
Rinne’s initial prognosis was an absence of two to four weeks after surgery. Therefore, the chances are high that Dekanich will see his first NHL action during this latest promotion. It is a prospect the netminder looks forward to.
“I want to prove that I no longer belong in the AHL and that I’m ready for a change and to excel at the next level,” Dekanich said. “I’m just trying to do my thing. (How many games I play) is out of my control, but as long as I can keep my game in order and keep playing well, I will eventually get my chance.”
That chance is long overdue for one of the AHL’s elite goaltenders.