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Battle Tested

by Aaron Paitich / Minnesota Wild

Goaltender Stephen Michalek doesn’t mind getting peppered with pucks. That’s good, because last week at the Wild’s Development Camp, he saw shot after shot in breakaway drills.

He was used to it

There were many times during his New England prep career at Loomis-Chaffee, he’d face 50 or 60 shots per game. That’s averaging about a shot every minute.

“He got pelted and left out to dry a little bit,” Wild Assistant General Manager Brent Flahr said.

The 6-2, 196-pound keeper didn’t mind carrying the load, but that didn’t mean it was easy. His prep team finished 3-20-2. After stopping more than 1,000 shots last season, Michalek finished with a .918 save percentage.

“It was pretty tough at times,” said Michalek, who will play for Harvard University next fall. “It sucks to lose but I think I got a lot better from it and the team got a lot better as the season went on. It was a good experience. It really helped me appreciate winning.”

Even with a plethora of young, talented goalie prospects in the system, the Minnesota Wild added to their depth by taking Michalek in the sixth round (161st overall) of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft last month.

Typically, goaltenders take longer to develop, and Michalek is a project at the beginning of the development curve. This week at the Wild’s Development Camp, he’s been working with Goaltending Coach Bob Mason.

“He’s a few years away but our scouts that knew him best felt there was something there, and obviously we’ll do whatever we can to work with him,” Flahr said.

Michalek is a steady, butterfly-style goalie who was thrown into the fire game after game. While he didn’t register a whole lot of wins and his goals-against average wasn’t mind-boggling, the amount of action he saw might have played in his favor.

NHL Central Scouting’s Al Jensen had this to say about Michalek in his scouting report:
"Every time I've seen the kid play, he takes between 50 and 60 shots. In a way, it was good because plenty of scouts got to see him. He plays big and is very good laterally. When he's in his butterfly, he looks big, he's smooth and controlled. He's very composed and he battles and fights through traffic to track the puck well."

The Hartford, Connecticut native eventually found success last August with the U.S. Under-18 squad at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, where Flahr said Michalek “stood on his head.” He guided the Americans to a silver medal, stopping 23 of 24 shots in a 1-0 championship loss to Canada.

There’s no rush for Michalek, who’s still a few weeks away from his 19th birthday. The future Crimson keeper represents a slew of goaltenders in the system.

With second-year pro Matt Hackett coming off a successful Houston Aeros campaign, recently-signed Darcy Kuemper being named the Western Hockey League’s (WHL) Goaltender and Player of the Year and the talented Dennis Endras in Germany, there’s still time for Michalek to develop.

“Players like this can go into college hockey whether it’s for three, four years and we’ll do whatever we can to work with him,” Flahr said. “It’s always good to have goaltenders in the pipeline.”

Michalek’s picked the brains of Hackett and his roommate for the duration of camp, Kuemper. He’s been asking how to adjust to higher levels of play and how to handle different situations in an aspiring goalie’s career.

“They’ve kind of taken care of me so far,” he said.

With time on his side, Michalek still hopes to leave a lasting impression this week at camp.

Said Michalek: “I haven’t played at as high of competition as most of the guys at Development Camp, but I can definitely compete with them and hopefully get better and show them I’m a good student of the game.”
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