Just less than two months ago, he was enjoying a solid year as the top goaltender for the Dallas Stars’ minor league affiliate based in the Austin suburb of Cedar Park, the AHL’s Texas Stars, where he blossomed last season playing for current Dallas coach Glen Gulutzan.
Now, he is the rookie backup netminder in Dallas for the foreseeable future, adjusting not only to the NHL lifestyle but also to playing much less frequently than he’s been used to as the second-stringer.
His performance Saturday afternoon at home against Edmonton, his first time in action as the NHL club’s undisputed backup, demonstrated just how effective he can be in the role, as he made 26 saves and was named the contest’s second star in a 4-1 victory.
“I felt good,” said Bachman, who improved his personal record to 6-2-0 since being recalled from AHL Texas back on Nov. 27. “I had some pretty good practices, I feel like, the last few days, and I’m just trying to stay ready so when stuff like this happens, I can go out there and feel comfortable and confident and try to give the team a chance to win. So it felt good.”
“He played a stellar game,” added center Jamie Benn
, who scored twice in that Edmonton game. “He held us in there early and he just played a good game. He’s a good goaltender and we have confidence in him.”
It was the classic backup experience. Bachman wasn’t initially scheduled to play, but he was called into action for number one man Kari Lehtonen
, who was dealing with a case of the flu. He reacted very well to the sudden change in circumstances and his performance proved that the situation didn’t faze him at all.
“We were going with Kari, but he wasn’t feeling good when he got to the rink in the morning,” Gulutzan reported. “We have confidence in Bachs and Kari was a little under the weather, he came and talked to us and said he wasn’t feeling great, and we put the other guy in. We told him about 45 minutes before the warm-ups and he was ready. It was a good game for him.”
“I was able to just do everything I normally do on a starting game day,” said the 24-year-old Bachman, a native of Salt Lake City, Utah. “Probably a couple hours later, I had a real good idea I was going, so I just did the normal routine, and luckily I knew enough ahead of time where I didn’t have to change anything or rush anything, so it was good.”
Therein lies one of the challenges of being the backup - you can sit for weeks at a time and then suddenly, you’re pressed into service at a moment’s notice. So far for Bachman, who has traditionally started most of his team’s games going back to his days at Colorado College from 2007-09, the transition has gone smoothly.
“It’s a little different, it’s one of the transitions coming here and backing up, getting that mindset that you can be called upon any minute and you don’t know exactly when,” admitted Bachman, who sparkled in 55 AHL games last season, posting a 28-19-5 record with six shutouts, a 2.20 goals-against average and a stellar .927 save percentage. “I prepare a little differently for that stuff so that I am ready when that does happen, and that is something I’ve adjusted to.”
Enjoying a solid year in the AHL through late November, Bachman’s big break came, as it so often seems to in sports these days, due to someone else’s injury - when Lehtonen suffered a groin injury Nov. 26 in Phoenix.
Then-backup Andrew Raycroft then assumed the top position and Bachman was recalled Nov. 27 to serve as his backup during Lehtonen’s absence. After spending three-plus games on the bench, Bachman relieved Raycroft in San Jose Dec. 8 and two days later, made his first NHL start in Los Angeles.
An outstanding 27-save performance in a much-needed 2-1 Dallas victory earned Bachman another start, and all he did was walk into Madison Square Garden and, with the HBO 24/7 cameras documenting everything, deliver a 34-save gem of a shutout in a 1-0 win. It remains the only shutout by the Stars this season.
Bachman went on to start a total of eight straight contests, going 5-2-0 in those games, before Lehtonen returned from his injury on Dec. 29. It was then that Stars General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk made the decision to keep Bachman in the NHL and assign Raycroft to the AHL, even though it meant the club would still be paying Raycroft an NHL salary because of his one-way contract.
It was a huge example of the trust the club has in him, and it’s clear that his teammates also have a tremendous amount of confidence that Bachman can do the job, because he’s earned it with his performance.
“The guys have been awesome, I was able to get some starts there in a row and get comfortable with the guys, so I think they’re confident and know that I can play,” said Bachman, who now boasts a 6-2-0 mark with a 2.56 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. “It’s just a little bit different role now, because you don’t know exactly when you’re going, but I feel confident with them, I think they’re confident with me and we’re working well together right now.”
Another difference for Bachman as the backup is that it changes his practice habits a little bit. Not playing for long stretches means that he takes extra work in practice and having that additional time to tinker with his game and work closely with goalie coach Mike Valley has also proven to be beneficial.
“I’ll stay on extra and work on little things that I need to work on for my game, take a bunch of shots and try to keep the cardio up so when I get out there, I don’t feel like I’m lagging a bit,” the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Bachman said regarding alterations in his routine. “When you play every night, you definitely can’t go that hard because then you’ll wear out, and when you’re not going every single night, you’ve got to take advantage of those, stay out there 40 minutes after practice and work on what you need to. I think it does help you feel sharp when you do get the call.”
“I think, honestly for him, a little bit of a load was taken off when Kari got back, because he played seven or eight games in a row for us,” Gulutzan pointed out. “And with Kari coming back now, the trend for him is up. He gets to watch an elite goalie every day in practice and learn from him and get to practice with our shooters without that pressure of ‘Am I here, am I in the minors, where am I?’ He’s a worker and he’s worked at practice, and he’s an observer and I think the only way for him to go is up.”
Bachman acknowledges that working closely with Lehtonen as his goalie tandem-mate has been a highly valuable experience.
“It’s been great. He’s a great professional, a great guy and we’ve gotten along awesome,” said Bachman, who was the Stars’ fourth-round selection (120th overall) in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. “You couldn’t ask for a better partner to be out there with. (Raycroft) was an awesome guy too, so we really have an awesome set-up here with goalies, and with Mike Valley, you never go to the rink and feel uncomfortable. It’s always, every day, we’re all trying to get better together and I think that’s a good mind-set to have as a goalie group.”
With Bachman continuing to progress at the NHL level, the Stars seem to be pretty well set at the goaltender position now.
Of course, circumstances can change quickly again, but there’s no question the Stars are better positioned to deal with it now than they were before Thanksgiving, knowing they have three NHL-caliber netminders in the organization.