With an opportunity to advance to the Western Conference Finals of the Calder Cup Playoffs for the first time in franchise history, San Jose Barracuda netminder Troy Grosenick calmly and methodically collected a 2-0 shutout in Game 5 against the San Diego Gulls.
The series-clinching win was reminiscent of his NHL debut, a 45-save shutout in an identical 2-0 victory versus the Carolina Hurricanes on November 16, 2014, becoming the first Sharks goaltender to record a shutout in his NHL debut.
However between those two milestones, a barrage of injuries and setbacks caused Grosenick to completely rethink his game.
After posting solid numbers with the Worcester Sharks during his rookie campaign in 2013-14 and early into his sophomore season, it looked like Grosenick's career was trending upward. Yet his record-setting shutout with the parent club during the 2014-15 season would be the highlight, as concussion issues affected him for nearly the entire year.
Things didn't get much better when he returned with the San Jose Barracuda in 2015-16, as his goals-against average ballooned to 3.16, while his save percentage plummeted to .894. Then Grosenick hit another road block when he was stripped of the starting role in favor of Aaron Dell.
Despite such a solid start to his professional career, suddenly the odds were stacked against him.
"I had a rough year last year," Grosenick admitted. "A lot of stuff was thrown at me quickly and I think it took a little time to process it."
At the end of a tough rebound season, Barracuda Goaltending Development Coach Evgeni Nabokov knew Grosenick was at a crossroads in his career. A 12-year veteran himself, Nabokov saw Grosenick's window of opportunity slowly beginning to shut.
"I thought it was a good idea for him to change his workout regimen and talk to somebody new," Nabokov said. "I talked to [Adam Francilia] and liked what he believed in."
Francilia, a personal trainer and "goalie guru", has trained a number of NHL netminders, including Devan Dubnyk, as well as former Sharks goalies James Reimer and Thomas Greiss. With a heavy emphasis on off-ice routines, Nabokov hoped this type of training would help Grosenick become more calm and consistent between the pipes.
But Grosenick was already late in the game when he traveled north for an initial consultation, not meeting Francilia until July of 2016. Nabokov was also weary that his age would play a role in how impactful the training was.
"It's easy to deal with 18- and 19-year-olds," Nabokov said. "It's way harder to change a guy when they are already 25 and 26, like Grosenick, and the fact that he already had a style and personality. We had to be careful and we weren't sure if it would work out."
The Brookfield, Wisconsin native returned home after meeting Francilia and quickly implemented a handful of new exercises into his daily routine for the next month before returning to Canada in August for the second phase of training.
"There were a lot of things movement-wise that I could get better at," Grosenick said. "He breaks down the way you move in the net and picks targeted exercises to strengthen certain aspects of your game and the way you move."
Grosenick arrived at the Sharks 2016-17 training camp with not only a new program, but a renewed confidence, and although he didn't make the Sharks roster, he finally had the opportunity to prove himself as the starter with the Barracuda.
With his new-found confidence, he subsequently returned to form by recording a career-best 2.04 goals-against average and .926 save percentage, while becoming the fifth goalie in AHL history to record double-digit shutouts in a single season (10). Grosenick was rewarded during his comeback season by being named the AHL Goaltender of the Year and a First Team AHL All-Star.
"If you would ask me if he would be able to turn around his career that tremendously, I'd probably say 50-50," Nabokov said. "But it's worked, from a technical perspective to a psychological perspective; he absolutely has become better on every little aspect.
"He's showing signs where he's becoming one of those guys who definitely can play in the NHL."
Even with all the accolades and positive reviews, Grosenick's focus remains on successfully manning the crease for the Western Conference Final versus the Grand Rapids Griffins.
"We all like spending a lot of time together and we know we have to win to stay together for a little bit longer," he said.
During the regular season, Grosenick stopped a combined 65 of 66 shots he faced versus the Griffins as the Barracuda swept the season series 2-0. However the Barracuda are facing a new challenge as they continue to test unchartered waters in the Conference Finals.
"Each round you advance, the goalies have to adjust and hopefully he'll be able to adjust to the new level," Nabokov said.
Grosenick made history in his NHL debut and he has a chance to make history again, along with the entire Barracuda roster, as they aim to advance to their first Calder Cup Finals berth.