The Toronto Maple Leafs had a rare day off on Tuesday, no game, no practise and no travel. Several players and coaches likely took the time to watch their American Hockey League brethren, the Toronto Marlies. For those who did, they got to see a show. Joseph Woll set a new franchise record with saves in a game at 57. He also set a record for saves in a period when he stopped 27 in the middle frame.
His performance came at the right time. There are a lot of questions in Leaf Land about the future of the crease. After five years defending the Toronto net, Frederik Andersen will soon become an unrestricted free agent. This season has been the worst of his career, and unless something happens in the playoffs, it will likely be his last as a Maple Leaf. Newly acquired David Rittich will also be on the market. Jack Campbell and Michael Hutchinson both have one season left on their deals. The situation in net will be a top priority for the Toronto front office to figure out in the upcoming offseason.
Woll just gave general manager Kyle Dubas and head coach Sheldon Keefe a lot to think about. This performance came against the Laval Rocket, the Montreal Canadiens farm team. Laval has been dominant this season; the team has already clinched the division and entered the game with more than double the number of points than the Marlies have amassed. They could not find a way to beat Woll until the 46th shot. Fatigue seemed to be setting in as he allowed two more but continued to make incredible saves. While the guys in front of him gave up many shots, they answered too as the Marlies won 4-3 in overtime.
Woll Would Rather be Busy
You may think a netminder would be a little upset with his mates, but not Woll. “It definitely makes it more fun. Being a goalie is a good mix of standing around and being in the action. It’s a lot more fun when you’re in the action,” said the 22-year-old after the game. So, what’s the secret to stopping 57 shots? “I try to approach every game the same way; goalies are best served to not think as much as they can,” said Woll with a laugh. “I just try to go out there and really be in the moment and let things come and go and just try to breathe through everything.”
Nic Petan scored the overtime winner taking the perfect pass from newly acquired Antti Suomela. But Petan was talking about his goalie after the game, “Woll is huge. You know anyone that could save 60 shots is pretty incredible, so you know we were talking about the benches as the game went on how he was battling tonight. He’s such a great individual.”
Woll is Improving
The win evens Woll’s record to 5-5 this season. His goals-against average now sits as 3.42, and his save percentage is .892. Granted, these are not the best statistics, but they are improvements over the previous season. Given the tumultuous circumstances the AHL has been facing, the young goalie’s progression is encouraging. Marlies’ head coach Greg Moore sees that every day, “He was phenomenal tonight. He’s done a lot of good work this season. Sometimes he doesn’t get the results he deserves with some of our play in front of him. It’s a game like that where you see how much he’s grown in a year, and he should feel really good about that effort. He gave us a chance to win. You could tell it’s building a lot of confidence for him.”
He’s shown that confident play before. In fact, the last time he played in Montreal, he was winning the gold medal for Team USA at the 2017 World Junior Championship. He also backstopped the Americans to a bronze in 2018. Before that, his stellar work with the USA Under 18 program put him on several scouts’ radars, including the Maple Leafs. They drafted him 62 overall in 2016. Suppose Woll can build on this performance and continue to improve next season. In that case, Toronto could get lucky and, for the first time since James Riemer, produce a starting goalie out of their own system.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.