The rookie goaltender, recalled from AHL Texas on Nov. 27 after the Stars’ number one goalie Kari Lehtonen
suffered a groin injury, figured he’d work hard in practice while backing up for Andrew Raycroft. But after Raycroft surrendered five goals in the first two periods of a 5-2 loss in San Jose Thursday night, Stars coach Glen Gulutzan inserted Bachman for the third period.
After stopping all 11 shots he faced, several of which were quite difficult, Bachman was rewarded when Gulutzan opted to come back to him for his first NHL start Saturday in Los Angeles. With the Stars needing a boost after two straight defeats, Bachman responded with a 26-save gem of a performance for his first big-league victory.
“It was exciting. When the final buzzer goes off, you can breathe a sigh of relief, especially in a tight game like that,” said Bachman after the tense 2-1 triumph. “It’s exciting, it’s fun. You always dream of getting that first win, and it was a dream come true.”
“I’ve had Bacher for a year and he’s a competitive guy and he’s pretty clean when it comes to rebounds and I thought he had a real good start for us,” said Gulutzan, who, as coach at AHL Texas last year, had a front-row seat to view Bachman’s excellence. “He’s developing quick. Our guys are impressed with the way he’s played and practiced and so are the coaches. We have confidence in him. He’s a good goaltender.”
With the confidence of his teammates and coaching staff, Bachman earned himself another start, as Gulutzan already announced that he would likely be manning the crease for the Stars’ next match-up, Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden against the 17-6-4 New York Rangers (6 pm start, FSSW). If not that one, Bachman would start one of the next two, either Thursday against the Islanders or Friday in New Jersey.
“I think he deserves another start, most likely against the Rangers,” acknowledged Gulutzan, whose club traveled cross-country from LA to New York for the last three games of a five-game trip. “We’ll give him that opportunity and see if he can run with it. We have confidence in him. He played 60 games for me last year, so we have no problem putting him in. I think his play has earned it.”
“He looked pretty calm back there for his first real start,” added Dallas center Jamie Benn
, who leads the club with 24 points (seven goals, 17 assists) in 28 games. “He’s a hell of a goalie, he’s really calm, played a great game and got a big two points for us. He prepared well tonight and played a great game.”
The 24-year-old Bachman, in his third professional season after starring for two years at Colorado College, has tended to be overshadowed among the Stars’ top prospects, but his gradual progression up the ladder has been steadier than many players tagged with the ‘can’t miss’ label.
The Stars’ fourth-round selection (120th overall) in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, Bachman spent part of the 2009-10 season with the Stars’ AHL affiliate based in the Austin suburb of Cedar Park, but most of it at ECHL Idaho, one level lower, as he adjusted to pro hockey. In 35 games at Idaho, Bachman went 22-7-4 with a 2.28 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage, and then helped the Steelheads advance to the Kelly Cup Finals with a 6-1 playoff record, along with a miniscule 1.59 GAA and .943 SP.
Then last season, he started out as the backup in Cedar Park before taking over the number one reigns early on for the injured Brent Krahn. With Gulutzan behind the Texas bench, Bachman flourished as the key man in net, posting a 28-19-5 record, along with a stellar 2.20 goals-against average, a .927 save percentage and six shutouts in 55 contests.
He also had a brief stint with the Stars, filling in as Raycroft’s backup for several games when Lehtonen was injured and making his NHL debut with four saves in 9:35 of relief last Dec. 11.
“It wasn’t a very long time and I think I only faced four shots, but it still is experience and I think it helps with the nerve factor more than anything,” said Bachman of his initial taste of the NHL last year. “Already getting in there, you’re a little less nervous and you kind of know a little bit what to expect.”
That experience also allowed Bachman to adapt quicker to the NHL lifestyle this time, since he already knew what to expect.
“Being up here, getting to work with (goaltending coach Mike Valley) every day and getting shots from these guys in practice, it’s been an awesome experience,” said Bachman, a native of Salt Lake City, Utah. “The shots, there’s not a huge jump between the American League and the NHL, but there’s a few subtle differences that it takes a little bit to get adjusted to, and it’s nice to be able to see that every day. Being called up last year, I got to see the routine of what goes on around here on game days and practice days, so I already kind of knew that stuff, so it’s been more of a ‘just come in and play and take as much as I can from it’ situation.”
This season in Texas, Bachman registered a 7-5-1 record with a 3.13 GAA and a .887 SP in 15 games - numbers that aren’t quite as eye-opening, but by all accounts, his performance on the ice was still strong leading up to his recall.
“He certainly has come a long way,” said Stars assistant coach Paul Jerrard, who was also Gulutzan’s assistant last season in the AHL. “Richard Bachman
, statistically, last year was in the top four of all categories in the American Hockey League and he continued to do a good job this year, and he’s obviously getting his opportunity. He’s just a real sound goaltender, very simple, he reads the game well and he’s positionally sound. He was great for us last year, gave us a chance to win every single night and I don’t doubt he’ll do the same this year.”
Someone who has helped his adjustment to the NHL, especially off the ice, is his new goaltending partner, Raycroft. The two have become fast friends and that camaraderie has benefited everyone.
“Bachs is a great guy. He came up a little bit last year and now this year, and he works hard,” said Raycroft, who surrendered 10 goals on 52 shots over his last two starts before Bachman relieved him in San Jose. “He’s a good guy, he fits in well and everyone likes him a lot. He’s a good goalie, obviously played really well in the minors the last few years and he does a good job here. I enjoy his company, so I help show him where to go on the plane and where to go in the hotel, those kinds of things, but on the ice, he knows what he’s doing, he does a good job at it. I don’t help him in any of those things, but we just kind of hang out and I try and make him feel as comfortable as possible.”
“He’s a great guy,” reciprocated Bachman. “He’s a good guy to watch, technically, he’s outstanding with his positioning and all that. There’s a lot you can learn from him and also, he’s just a great guy to be around. We support each other out on the ice when we’re doing drills and if I have any questions, I can talk to him with no hesitation there.”
Bachman also noted that Raycroft has always been someone he’s looked up to, since he was in high school in the Boston area when Raycroft played for the Bruins and won the Calder Trophy as NHL Rookie of the Year in 2003-04.
“I used to watch him play and we actually have the same agent, so I’ve heard a lot about him coming up,” said Bachman, who attended Cushing Academy for three years before leaving to play in the USHL in 2006-07. “So it’s kind of cool to sit next to him in the locker room and pick his brain a little bit and just see him out there. It’s pretty cool. It felt a little weird at first, but he’s an awesome guy, I couldn’t ask for a better guy to be here with.”
One of the NHL’s shortest netminders at 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, Bachman has had to rely more on strong positioning and technique to play at an elite level, as well as a dogged work ethic.
“He’s a real competitive guy, he’s a cerebral goalie, which means as a smaller guy, he has to be in good position,” said Gulutzan. “He doesn’t give up a lot of rebounds, you have to beat him clean to beat him and he reads the game well. He’s quietly a competitive guy and he’s won everywhere he’s been and with us last year. We’re just going to keep moving, it’s a good opportunity for him.”
“He’s a really good goalie, always works hard and I think he’s going to be a really good goalie in the future,” added rookie defenseman Philip Larsen
, who played with Bachman last season and early this year in Cedar Park before he, too, was recalled in November. “I like the way he’s playing, he’s so calm and always feels like he’s right where he’s supposed to be in the games. He saved us a lot last year when we didn’t play well or if we had a tough time, he was always stepping up and won some games for us. I think he’s a really good goalie.”
Bachman certainly does present himself as cool, calm and collected, seeming relaxed and comfortable in front of the media after his first win Saturday night. That’s just his normal demeanor, and clearly, it’s helping him manage the excitement and enabling him to remain focused on the task at hand.
“He looked like himself,” Gulutzan said in LA. “I just told him before he went out there, ‘Hey it’s the same game. It’s the same game you’ve been playing.’ And he has that ability, that success he’s had to get drafted and in college and AA (ECHL) and then AAA (AHL) success. He’s going through the natural progression.”
“I try and just keep it as simple as possible,” Bachman said. “I have a routine that I’ve done for a few years now that I really learned to rely on for game days, and I think it really helps me maintain an even keel and not get too high or too low. I just took (the LA start) as every other game I’ve gotten ready for. Obviously, there were a little more jitters in there, but I’m just trying to stay calm and work hard.”
So far, so good.