At 29 years old and at a crossroads in his hockey career, Alex Stalock got some of the best advice he could have from former Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher.
Sometimes you need to take one step back to take two steps forward.
Stalock, who appeared to be taking off in 2013-14 when he had a 1.87 goals-against average to go with a .932 save percentage in 24 games with the San Jose Sharks, had seen his numbers tumble the following season.
Then, in 2015-16, they dropped again. San Jose, the organization that had drafted Stalock in the fourth round of the 2005 NHL Draft, traded him to Toronto, where he played three games for the team's AHL affiliate.
A free agent that summer, Stalock was unsure of what his next step would be.
The call from Fletcher provided him with that advice, and an opportunity with the Wild. But Stalock would really have to want it.
Minnesota was secure with Devan Dubnyk and Darcy Kuemper at the NHL level, so a return to the midwest and the NHL would first travel through Des Moines and the Iowa Wild.
Video: Stalock on Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy nomination
"That's what that season was," Stalock said. "You learn a lot about yourself and I went down there and got some good work with the staff down there, simplifying my game."
Stalock bought in and hasn't turned back since.
On Tuesday, Stalock was named the Twin Cities' chapter of the Pro Hockey Writer's Association's nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, awarded each year to the player annually who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey.
"Any time you're nominated for an award, it's a nice feeling," Stalock said. "As an individual, it's an honor to take it, but this is a team award. For sure, with this group, the way this group competed through the ups and a lot of the downs [and the way] we had to get back into contention, is I think a big reason I have a chance to be up for this award."
Stalock's time in Iowa lasted most of just one season, but it was the exact boost his career needed at that time. He debuted with his hometown team late that season, then took over backup duties behind Dubnyk in 2017-18, where he has remained a calming influence and one of the locker room's favorite characters.
Video: MIN@CBJ: Stalock stymies Blue Jackets in 5-0 road win
Before this season went on hiatus, Stalock was having perhaps his best year to date, posting a 20-11-4 record with a 2.67 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage with four shutouts.
The 36 games he started were already a career high, and he was playing at such a high level before the stoppage that Stalock had essentially cast away the "backup" label. On the team's final road trip before the pause, Stalock started two of the Wild's three games. Between Feb. 25 and March 7, Stalock started seven consecutive games, the longest run in his career.
"That's put on by you guys, the media, that [backup] label," Stalock said. "Any time, as an athlete, you want to be as competitive as you can, be the best you can be, and whether it's in that position where you get slotted as a backup guy or whatever they say before the season or during the season, it's a goal to play. And you want to play as many minutes, as many games as you can."
In winning 20 games, Stalock became the fifth goaltender in franchise history to reach the single-season milestone. In addition to starts and wins, Stalock had also set career highs in shutouts, minutes played (2,177), shots against (1,082) and saves (985).
"We played great when I was in there and it made it that much better to go in there and have success," Stalock said. "To play behind that group, was very fortunate for me."
Video: VGK@MIN: Stalock makes 26 saves in shutout victory
Stalock is the fourth Wild goaltender to be nominated for the Masterton Trophy, joining Dubnyk (2014-15), Josh Harding (2012-13, 2013-14) and Dwayne Roloson (2002-03). Harding won the award in 2013 and Dubnyk won it in 2015.
Whether Stalock will be able to pick up where he left off should summer hockey resume at some point in the next few weeks is unclear.
With more than four months between games, both Stalock and Dubnyk, as well as Iowa goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen, the AHL's top goaltender this season, are expected to start on even ground if and when training camp 2.0 resumes, perhaps in mid-July.
At that point, Stalock knows he'll have to prove himself once again. And he's just fine with that.
"That makes the most sense," Stalock said. "You've gotta be going that first night and I think whoever is looking the sharpest, you have to go with the first night.
"It's training camp. Goalies are going to report and they want to show what they've done, show what shape they're in and how they're looking. That will set the lineup."