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Stalock Saves The Day

by San Jose Sharks Staff / San Jose Sharks
San Jose Sharks goalie Alex Stalock deflects a shot from the Phoenix Coyotes during the third period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Tuesday night’s 5-3 win by the San Jose Sharks over the Phoenix Coyotes was a night of firsts.

Center Kyle Wellwood, who was claimed off waivers from St. Louis on Jan. 18, scored his first goal with the Sharks. His tally at 5:32 tied the score at 3-3.

But the biggest first of the night came from rookie goaltender Alex Stalock. The 23-year-old made his National Hockey League debut about halfway through the second period. Stalock saved all nine shots in his 29:47 of playing time, kept the Sharks in the game and earned his first NHL win.

Starter Antti Niemi had won four of his last five starts leading up to the All-Star Break. But he allowed two goals in a nearly three-minute span late in the first period to give the Coyotes a 2-0 lead.

“They had a lot of good chances early and they were taking it to us quite a bit,” Stalock said.

And after Paul Bissonnette scored at 10:13 of the second period to put Phoenix up 3-0, Coach Todd McLellan had Stalock relieve Niemi.

“You don’t have time to get the nerves going,” Stalock said. “You just get thrown right in there. You’re just watching the game. You’re not in it at all. It’s a shock (to go in like that), especially when it’s your first one.”

Alex Stalock wasn’t the only member of his family who was shocked by Tuesday night’s events. His parents, Cindy and Brian, were in from Minnesota to watch his son’s team – and got an extra bonus by watching their son make his NHL debut.

“I went from being real relaxed,” Brian Stalock said, “to being real tense.”

“I just said, ‘Oh dear,’” Cindy Stalock said. “I was just hoping he was having as much fun as it looked like he was having.”

Alex Stalock had to wait five minutes before seeing his first shot: a wrister by veteran defenseman Ed Jovanovski. Stalock saved that shot and the next eight he saw.

“It was a blast and it was something I’ve been waiting for my whole life,” Stalock said of his NHL debut. “It was exciting. It was a lot of fun.”

There’s no doubt Stalock is more than ready for this opportunity. Last year at San Jose’s top development affiliate in Worcester, Stalock led the American Hockey League and set a rookie record with 39 wins. He also represented Worcester at the 2010 AHL All-Star Game.

This year, Stalock went to training camp with the Sharks but started the season in the AHL. He was recalled from Worcester on Jan. 25 to replace Antero Niittymaki, who was on Injured Reserve with a lower body injury. Stalock dressed for the Sharks game in Los Angeles on Jan. 26, returned to Worcester on Jan. 28 and came back to San Jose before Tuesday’s game.

For now, Stalock will be on San Jose’s season-long seven-game road trip that begins in Anaheim Wednesday night. “I’ve never seen a road trip this long before,” Stalock said, “but it will be a learning experience.”

Of course, there’s a chance Niittymaki will be activated sometime over the next two weeks and Stalock will be returned to Worcester. That may be disappointing to Stalock, but he knows he must approach the next two weeks in only one way. “You just go to the rink and just work as hard as you can,” Stalock said. “Every chance I get I just want to give it a hundred percent and see what happens.”

But regardless, Tuesday night will be an unforgettable one for this fourth round 2005 NHL Entry Draft pick.

“I’ll remember this,” Stalock said, “for a long time.”

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