Tomorrow night in Vancouver, Jose Thedore is expected to make his first start as a member of the Minnesota Wild, meaning that he'll become just the 11th goaltender to play in a Wild game. That means the Wild has averaged just over one goaltender per NHL season, which is pretty impressive. Even more impressive was that four of the first 10 goalies appeared in year one, and four appeared last year.
In comparison, the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Wild's expansion cousins, who never have had a "goaltending carousel," have played 14 goaltenders. Side note: Speaking of Columbus, here's a fun fact: Wade Dubielewicz is the only goaltender to have played for both teams.
Some of the Wild's goaltenders have become All-Stars, Olympians and Vezina candidates. Others were gone and forgotten...until now. Let's take a look back at the 10 Wild goaltenders in team history, and the legacy they left.
We all know his story by now. Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Finland in 2006, Backstrom was supposed to add some goaltending depth to the organization. With Manny Fernandez in place as the starter and Josh Harding
proven to be ready as a backup, Backstrom appeared to be Houston bound. Then, Harding got hurt in preseason, and Backstrom became the backup. By season's end, he was the unquestioned starter after going 23-8-6 and leading the Wild to the playoffs. Since then, he's become the franchise's all-time leader in wins, the starter in all of the last 11 Wild playoff games and a Vezina Trophy candidate in 2009.
Zac Bierk, we may not remember as well. In the Wild's inaugural season, both Fernandez and Jamie McLennan were injured, so Bierk and Derek Gustafson were the two keepers on the roster in early March. The former Tampa Bay Lightning backup made his first and only Wild appearance on March 8, 2001. Facing the New Jersey Devils, he gave up two goals in each period in a 6-2 loss to the Devils. The forgettable appearance means Bierk will most likely be remembered in these parts for being the younger brother of Sebastian Bach, the ex-lead singer of heavy metal band, Skid Row.
"Doobey" was first known in these parts as the unbeatable Denver University goaltender who stymied the Minnesota Gophers in the 2002 WCHA Final Five Championship Game. Eight years later, he became an emergency tender for the Wild. With Backstrom and Harding both injured last winter, Dubielewicz got the road start against Dallas on February 2. He gave up four goals on 18 shots in a 4-2 loss, and never started another game in Minnesota. He did, however, get some redemption. In the second to last game of the season, Backstrom left a 1-1 game in the third period against Calgary. Doobey came in and made five saves in the third period. He then got his first-ever Wild win after prevailing in a shootout.
He could be moody, but Manny could also be a very talented and acrobatic goaltender. Fernandez helped make the expansion Wild extremely respectable in its first year of existence, actually posting a winning record (19-17-4) and a miniscule 2.24 goals against average. He had his ups and downs in his next five years in Minnesota as he shared duties with Dwayne Roloson, but he made his impact. He was at his best in the 2003 playoffs when he replaced Roloson as the starter for Game Five against Colorado. He promptly won the next three games, including Game Seven when he made a dazzling glove save on Rob Blake just minutes before Andrew Brunette ended the series with the greatest moment in Wild history.
Prior to joining the Wild, Gustafson was best known as St. Lawrence University's winning goaltender in a thrilling 3-2 quadruple overtime victory over Boston University in the 2000 NCAA quarterfinals. The next year, he appeared in four games with the Wild. The day after Bierk got shelled by the Devils, Gustafson made his NHL debut and stopped 22 of 23 shots and defeated the New York Islanders. He played three more games that year, and one the following season without recording a win. He never saw action in another NHL game, with his career record standing at 1-3-0 with a 2.26 goals against average.
You wouldn't wish Josh Harding
's luck on anybody. After doing everything asked of him to reach the NHL, Harding appeared to have a backup spot locked up for the 2006-07 season. Instead, he got hurt in a preseason game in St. Louis, and Backstrom took over the backup job, and then the starting gig. Harding did eventually become a full-time backup to Backstrom, but never got a chance to become a starter. After undergoing offseason hip surgery this past summer, Harding came to this year's camp in unbelievable shape. Then, in another preseason game in St. Louis, he tore is ACL and MCL, and was ruled out indefinitely. The hard luck stopper has played the fourth most games of any goaltender in team history, but it's unknown if he'll get the chance to improve on his 28-39-4 record with Minnesota. No matter what, he will always be known as the goaltender with the most creative mask designs in team history.
To this day, "Dobby" (not to be confused with "Doobey") is the only undefeated goaltender in team history (but that could change if Theodore pulls out the win tomorrow). Who could forget the week he had in early February of last year? He was serving as backup when Harding injured his hip while making a miraculous diving glove save. Khudobin entered a tie game with less than 10 minutes remaining. He made nine saves while the Wild scored two goals to make him the first goaltender to get his first win while playing less than 10 minutes. The next day, Khudobin had reporters buckled over laughing during a media session after he was named the starter for the next night against Philadelphia. He went out that Saturday night and stopped 38 of 39 shots in a thrilling 2-1 win over the Flyers. He hasn't played a Wild game since, but remains in the system, tending goal for Houston.
Poor Dieter. During the Wild's playoff year of 2002-03, Kochan was biding his time in Houston with the Aeros. He was called up in early January when Fernandez went down with injury. Roloson shouldered the load from there, starting nine games in a row with Kochan as his backup, and going 4-4-1. While the team was in Edmonton, Roloson's wife went into labor, and he flew back home to Minnesota. Kochan was thrust into the net and gave up five goals in a 5-1 loss. Harding, who was playing Junior hockey in Regina at the time, served as the backup. Kochan never started another game for Minnesota after that night, but he'll always be able to say he didn't hurt the Wild's playoff chances that season. At the very least, he had a memorable name, which spurred many Sprockets
"Noodles" was adored by his teammates in his only full season with the Wild in 2000-01. Despite solid numbers of a 2.64 goals against average and a .905 save percentage while sharing duties with Fernandez, McLennan had little luck. He only picked up five wins while dropping 23 and tying nine. Just how bad was his luck in a Wild uniform? His first shutout that season didn't even yield him a win, thanks to a 0-0 tie with Roberto Luongo and the Florida Panthers. However, he will always hold the distinction as the first Wild goalie to win a game, despite giving up five goals in a 6-5 win over the Lightning on October 18, 2000.
When he wasn't charging out of his crease to yell at referees, or punching an opposing forward in the back for getting too close to his crease, "Roli the Goalie" was stopping pucks...a lot of them. Sharing duties with Fernandez beginning in 2001-02, he became a Wild fan favorite for his consistency and intensity. He is still the franchise's all-time leader in goals against average (2.28) and save percentage (.919). He backstopped the Wild to its last three wins in the 2003 Western Conference Semifinals against Vancouver, and he was an All-Star goalie the following season when the event came to St. Paul. Amazingly, at the age of 41, Roloson is still tending goal for the New York Islanders, where he won two of his first three games this season.