We return to the Goalie News after the Christmas break with NHL games and the World Junior Championship (WJC) in full swing. That meant great news for two Slovakian-born goaltenders. But the best news of the week goes to Arizona Coyotes’ goaltender Darcy Kuemper.
Halak Stands Tall
Born May 13, 1985, in Bratislava, capital of modern-day Slovakia, Jaroslav Halak is the most accomplished Slovakian goaltender of all time. On Friday night, he recorded his 50th career NHL shutout in a 3-0 victory over the Buffalo Sabres.
While most of his goaltending colleagues around the league were rusty coming off of the Christmas break, Halak was razor-sharp. He made 26 saves on the night. Despite the relative dearth of shots on goal, the Sabres generated 13 high danger chances, meaning he had to make tough saves at critical times. After the game, Halak spoke to the media about what it meant to collect his 50th shutout:
Yeah, you know, I don’t really [pausing]… yeah, I mean, it’s special, but it’s a team win right now, we needed points. We need the points right now. It wouldn’t have mattered if it would be 3-2, 3-1, whatever. I mean, it makes it more special when you have a shutout, but, at the same time, like I said, this is a team game, and we got the win.
On a night when the average number of goals scored in the other games around the league was 7.1, Halak also spoke on how he prepared to play a game after a lengthy holiday break:
In the morning, I just tried to get my timing back. Obviously, first couple drills, it’s always tough, after three, four days off, basically not doing anything, and playing the game later on, I just tried to get my timing in warmups and I just tried to keep it simple. Not trying to be a superhero there, just trying to do my job.
Whatever he did, it clearly worked. Halak and Boston’s starter, Tuuka Rask form one of the most formidable goalie tandems in the league. Elsewhere in the hockey world, we got a glimpse of a different Slovakian goaltender hoping to follow in Halak’s NHL footsteps.
Hlavaj’s Big Night
Halfway around the world and just half an hour from the Slovakian border, the national junior team made their WJC debut with Samuel Hlavaj in the net. A 2020 draft prospect and a standout goaltender with the Sherbrooke Phoenix, Hlavaj has had arguably the best season of any QMJHL netminder. His. .925 save percentage (SV%) and 2.14 goals against average (GAA) in 22 starts both lead the league amongst qualified starters. But now, he’s looking to make his mark at the international level.
Friday’s performance was a good start. He stopped 22-of-23 shots and won player of the game honors. Of course, against an opponent like Kazakhstan, Slovakia was expected to win; however, a strong first performance is important for any goalie, especially in a tournament like this.
It’ll still be a long time before Hlavaj is on Halak’s level, but if he continues to perform like this, he should be a top goalie draft pick in 2020. It’s a long road after that, but it’s a pretty good start for a Slovakian goalie with NHL dreams.
Goalie Gram: Kuemper’s Big Christmas
Kuemper is having a pretty good season with the Coyotes so far. After winning the starter’s net last season, and signing a lucrative contract this October, he’s posted a .929 SV% and a 2.17 GAA in 25 games, with a 15-8-2 record. Anxd despite a recent setback with a lower-body injury, it looks like things are going even better for him at home.
According to this lovely Instagram photo, Kuemper proposed to his girlfriend over the Christmas break, and by the looks of things, she said yes! It’s another big accomplishment in a season full of them. We at the Hockey Writers wish all the best to the happy couple.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.