Everybody loves an underdog story.
Whether it be fictional as the Rocky or Mighty Ducks movies, or true stories such as the Miracle on Ice or the New England Patriots winning their first Super Bowl back in 2002, it is always heartwarming to see someone overcome the odds to achieve greatness.
Thus lies the story of one Alexander Stalock – a goaltender from the State of Hockey who recently manned the net for his hometown team in the Stanley Cup qualifying round. While the ending was not what he had in mind, Stalock’s path to being a possible No. 1 goaltender in the National Hockey League has been nothing but an underdog story.
Coming from St. Paul, MN, Stalock started to put his name on the map as a member of the Cedar Rapids Roughriders of the United States Hockey League. Alongside current Detroit Red Wing Justin Abdelkader, Stalock and the Roughriders won the USHL’s Clark Cup in 2005, and he went onto be drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the fourth round of the 2005 Entry Draft.
He then had a successful three-year college career at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. There, he became an All-American and was named the 2009 Western Collegiate Hockey Association Goaltender of the Year. He finished with the third-best career goals-against-average (2.48 GAA) and save percentage (.910 SV%) in program history.
Into the Pros
In the fall of 2009, Stalock joined San Jose’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Worcester Sharks. He went on to have an exceptional first season at the professional level, going 39-19-2 while leading the AHL in wins and earning AHL All-Rookie honors.
In the 2010-11 season, Stalock was having another exceptional season and earned his first game action in the NHL on Feb. 1, 2011, against the then-Phoenix Coyotes. He came on in relief for Antti Niemi, made nine saves, and picked up his first win in the NHL.
Following the victory, Stalock was sent back down to Worcester to play in one game on Feb. 4, before rejoining San Jose the next night in Boston.
During that game against the Manchester Monarchs, Monarchs forward Dwight King attempted to jump over a sprawling Stalock, but ended up cutting the back of the goaltender’s left knee (from ‘Former Bulldog Stalock suffers season-ending injury,’ Duluth News-Tribune, 02/08/2011). After being rushed to the trainer’s room, it was revealed that Stalock’s peroneal nerve had been cut. He was promptly taken by ambulance to have emergency surgery.
Two surgeries later, the nerve was connected, but would not work. A new nerve had to grow over the old one, which was a slow process that tested the patience of Stalock.
“You couldn’t do anything to make it get better,” Stalock told ESPN’s Devon Heinen in 2013.
After four months of waiting, and suffering from drop foot and muscle loss, the new nerve had grown to the point where Stalock was able to begin the long and painful process of physical therapy. The process paid off, as on Jan. 12, 2012, less than 12 months after suffering an injury that could have ended his career, Stalock stepped back onto the ice with the Sharks’ ECHL affiliate, the Stockton Thunder.
After a brief stint there, Stalock was called back up to Worcester, where the team already had two solid goaltenders in Harri Sateri and Tyler Sexsmith. Looking for somewhere to play, the Sharks loaned Stalock to the St. Louis Blues’ AHL team, the Peoria Rivermen.
During warmups on a game on April 5, Stalock broke the tip of his ring finger on his blocking hand while attempting to stop an innocent shot, and once again, his season ended prematurely.
Becoming a Full-Timer
Stalock rehabbed back to full health, and find himself back in Worcester in the fall of 2012, and shared the net that season with Sateri. Both were decent that season, and both looked to take the backup role in San Jose after Thomas Greiss signed with the Coyotes in the summer of 2013.
Stalock beat out Sateri in training camp, and for the first time in his career, was a full-time NHL goaltender. The new kid on the block played well during his rookie campaign in San Jose, going 12-5-2 during the regular season, and finishing with a 1.87 GAA and a .932 SV%.
He even set a record for the franchise’s longest shutout streak. Stalock earned his first NHL shutout against the Panthers on Jan. 16, and followed that up with another donut in his next start against the Winnipeg Jets. He was finally scored upon a few nights later against the Los Angeles Kings, ending his streak at 178:55. The record was later broken by Martin Jones the next season, by one second.
During the Sharks’ first-round series that year against the Kings (that saw San Jose infamously blow a 3-0 series lead), Stalock made three appearances, including the start in Game 6.
Going Nowhere in Toronto
After a 2014-15 season that saw him miss some time due to injury, Stalock looked for a better season in 2015-16, now backing up Martin Jones, who had been acquired via trade with the Boston Bruins that offseason. However, Stalock struggled, only starting nine games through the first five months of the season.
On Feb. 28, Stalock was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs. At the time, the Leafs had Jonathan Bernier and up-and-coming prospect Garrett Sparks manning the crease, so Stalock was promptly placed on waivers. He inevitably cleared, and was sent to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. However, with Antoine Bibeau playing well, and an influx of goaltenders already with the club, Stalock only played three games and was left fourth on the depth chart after Sparks joined the team for the playoffs.
What made this situation even less joyful was the fact that Stalock was having to live in a downtown Toronto hotel with his wife and son, as they were unable to settle in the city with Stalock’s future uncertain.
A Hometown Rebirth
Stalock was given a shot with his hometown team in Minnesota, as the Wild signed him as a free agent on July 1, 2016. He regained his touch in playing with their farm team in Iowa, going 23-17-8 with a .926 SV% that placed him tied for second among AHL netminders.
Stalock locked up the backup spot before the 2017-18 season behind Devan Dubnyk, and even saw a stretch as the No. 1 goaltender while Dubnyk missed some time due to injury. 2 of Stalock’s 10 wins came against former teams, as he defeated the Sharks and the Leafs within a four-day span. He ended the season with a respectable 2.85 GAA and .910 SV%.
After a tough 2018-19 campaign that saw the Wild miss the playoffs for the first time since 2012, expectations were low for the club. The team started the 2019-20 season 0-4, and did not even reach the .500 mark until late November.
That was around the time head coach Bruce Boudreau decided to start platooning Stalock and Dubnyk. He rode whoever was hot, and when one started to falter, the other would step in. However, as January turned into February, Stalock became white-hot. Despite Boudreau getting fired, and the ensuing promotion of Dean Evason, Stalock’s play helped the Wild look like a playoff contender.
Before the pause, Stalock won six of his last eight starts, and was 9-3-1 since the beginning of February. His regular-season numbers included a 2.67 GAA, a .910 SV% and four shutouts that were tied for fifth-most in the NHL. The 2019-20 regular season also saw Stalock crack the 20-win for the first time in his career. Who knows how many wins he could have ended up with had there been a full 82-game season?
The extended 24-team playoff format meant the Wild were back in the postseason, and still had a shot to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs. While some wondered if Stalock would be able to handle the pressure of playoff hockey, the Minnesotan silenced doubters with an excellent 28-save shutout in Game 1 of their best-of-three qualifying-round series against the Vancouver Canucks.
Unfortunately for Stalock, and the Wild, that was as good as it got. The Canucks won the next three games, ending the Wild’s season.
There is no question that Stalock’s play towards the end of the regular season, and his efforts in postseason, earned him a shot at being a No. 1 goaltender with the Minnesota Wild. He has certainly paid his dues in the process. From having career-threatening injuries and being stuck in a hotel in Toronto, to being the starter in the postseason, Stalock’s journey to where he is now has been nothing but extraordinary, and, dare I say, inspiring.
Related: Top 3 All-Time Wild Goalies
With more uncertainty on how good the Wild may be next season, it may be time for the club to give this hometown 33-year-old a chance to take the reigns as The Guy in St. Paul.