With the Edmonton Oilers mired in a 2-10-2 slump and winless since Dec. 18, fans in Oil Country could use something – anything – to brighten these dog days of winter. And they’ll find it in sunny California.
That’s where goaltender Alex Stalock is beginning his attempt at a comeback, after clearing waivers on Friday (Jan. 14) and being loaned by the Oilers to the American Hockey League’s Bakersfield Condors.
Stalock Has Been Out of Action Since 2020
Stalock hasn’t played a professional hockey game in nearly a year and a half, going back to the 2020 NHL postseason when he was a member of the Minnesota Wild. After contracting COVID-19 in Nov 2020, Stalock was diagnosed with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle that can lead to cardiac arrest.
Since then, the veteran goalie has been battling uphill to regain his health and return to action. From the moment the Oilers claimed him off waivers from the Wild last March, Stalock seemingly could not take a step forward without being met by setback along his journey back.
After tests during the offseason detected a possible heart condition, Stalock was thought likely to miss the 2021-22 season. There was open speculation if the 34-year-old would ever play again, period.
But last Tuesday (Jan. 11) came word that Stalock had been cleared by his own doctors, and would go on waivers once he passed his physical with the team, setting the stage for his return to action in Bakersfield. Social media lit up with posts expressing happiness for Stalock, who has endeared himself on every stop of his career, from his days at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and NHL debut with the Jose Sharks in 2010-11.
Can Stalock Help the Oilers This Season?
The news took on a different meaning in Oil Country, where fans really haven’t had an opportunity to get to know the well-liked netminder yet. But with the Oilers’ goaltending situation in dire straits (Mike Smith is old and injured, Stuart Skinner is young and in COVID protocol, Mikko Koskinen is Mikko Koskinen) and a big – if not the biggest – reason for the team’s slide, anybody who stop a shot is more than welcome in Edmonton right now.
No one is expecting Stalock to come back reincarnated as Georges Vezina. Truthfully, it would be a massive accomplishment if the Minnesota native plays one second in the NHL this season. But Stalock may be closer to form than one would think, based on his stellar performance last August in Da Beauty League, an elite pro-am summer exhibition in Minnesota that features dozens of NHL players: The goalie in Da Beauty League’s video highlights was moving a lot like the one that two seasons ago went 9-3-1 with a 2.22 goals against average (GAA) and .934 save percentage (SV%) down the stretch for the Wild.
Stalock’s Health is Top Priority
First and foremost, of concern is the health of Stalock, who spent months facing a very serious condition. According to the Mayo Clinic, myocarditis can reduce the heart’s ability to pump and cause rapid or irregular heart rhythms. More serious cases weaken the heart so that the rest of the body doesn’t get enough blood. Clots can form in the heart, leading to a stroke or heart attack.
There is becoming a greater public appreciation and awareness of the condition, which made headlines around the world and especially in Canada last week with the news that international soccer superstar and Edmonton product Alphonso Davies will be out of action for weeks after being found to have a mild form of myocarditis following a bout of COVID-19.
Oilers forward Josh Archibald was also diagnosed with myocarditis, and has yet to play this season, out indefinitely since the beginning of October.
To understanding the potential severity of this condition is to feel that much more thankful that a healthy Stalock can step back on the ice today. And dor whatever happens next, that’s already something to feel good about.
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.