Photo: Nina Weiss/Flyerdelphia
In two weeks, Anthony Stolarz will take the ice in Syracuse as an All-Star goaltender for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Two years ago, that almost didn't seem like a possibility.
Stolarz had suffered a gruesome injury while playing junior hockey for the London Knights, when a skate cut the back of his leg during a net-mouth scramble. Stolarz was taken off the ice on a stretcher.
To a goalie, a delay in development like that could have been detrimental to his future. But for all the defensive prospects that are discussed for the Flyers, Stolarz can certainly give the Flyers hope between the pipes as an up-and-coming netminder getting closer to making the leap to the NHL.
"He's been great all year," Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon said. "His rebound control has been outstanding. He's tracked the puck well. To his credit, he's worked hard at it and he's gotten better. It's good to see."
"I'm just going out there and trying to stop each puck and not worry too much about it," Stolarz said. "When you start doing that, you get in your head a little bit and, as a goalie, you'll start to gripping the stick a little bit. For me, it's just going out there and focusing on the next shot and just doing what I can to stop the puck and give the guys a chance to win."
Stolarz stands a whopping 6'6" with the ability to stretch beyond the distance from post to post. His wingspan is equally as impressive and allows him to still appear large in net, while taking away the entire bottom of the goal.
Stolarz has a 12-10-3 record with a 2.31 GAA and .920 save percentage in his second season at the professional level. His rookie season in the AHL, Stolarz played in 31 games, posting a 9-13-4 record with a 3.28 GAA and .905 save percentage.
Stolarz is really the Flyers lost gem in a pool of goaltenders that are either too far off in development or just buying time for the prospects. Stolarz shares the crease in Lehigh Valley with Jason LaBarbera, a long-time veteran netminder. With the Flyers having Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth manning the crease in Philadelphia, Stolarz gets to work on his game in a more primary role.
To this point, Stolarz has been succeeding well and shown signs of growth and improvement.
"I think my composure has improved, especially a lot from last year," Stolarz said. "Even looking at video from last year, I was really scrambly at times and I think this year I've calmed my game down. I'm not diving across the crease as much as I had to last year. I think my poise in net is allowing me to make saves I didn't make last year or if I did make it, it looked like a tough save but this year I'm making it look easy."
"A good sign of a goaltender who is playing on top of his game is that he's not diving all over the place," Gordon said. "Every save that he makes is with a purpose. And from those saves, he's had excellent recoveries. That's what you strive for as a goaltender, not to be all over the place."
In just two short years, Stolarz went from being a star in the OHL, to the injury scare that could have derailed his career, to an AHL All-Star on the cusp of bringing that talent to the NHL.
For a team that talks about the defensive prospects that are coming soon, rest assured, the goaltender is coming soon too.
Kevin Durso is managing editor for Flyerdelphia. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.