Hextall’s using caution with rookie Stolarz
Anthony Stolarz has been called up to the big club six other times as other goalies were injured. But he’d never been called upon to play. Now, with Michal Neuvirth out with injury, will he get a shot to start?
VOORHEES, N.J. >> There was Ron Hextall on this Monday morning, doing what he does best, verbally jousting with the media.
His talented goaltender who rarely gives himself a chance to show that, Michal Neuvirth, had hurt himself yet again, and as a result the subject of this discussion was rookie goalie Anthony Stolarz.
Just called up on this day, he was on the Skate Zone practice ice, perhaps wondering if he was ever going to get the chance to show his talents in a real NHL game.
Considering he’s a goalie, Stolarz was a surprisingly high draft pick in 2012, going in the second round at No. 45 overall yet drawing much attention as the Flyers’ first selection. He’d work through two more years of junior hockey as a 6-foot-6 but too-lanky Flyers teen prospect, then another two full seasons as a developing pro with the Phantoms. This season, he’d won six of eight starts.
Stolarz has been called up to the big club six other times as other goalies were injured. But he’d never been called upon to play.
“I’m just taking it day by day,” Stolarz said. “I’ve prepared myself down in the Lehigh Valley all year for an opportunity to try to make an impression, and if my name’s called I’ll be ready. ... Just being in this atmosphere, you kind of want to contribute.”
Now, with Neuvirth on Long Term Injured Reserve for four to six weeks with a lower body injury, it seemed obvious Stolarz would soon be making his NHL debut. Or will he?
“I have no idea,” general manager Hextall said. “Probably nor does the coach.” Oh. But both Neuvirth and incumbent starter Steve Mason have been equally bad in the early weeks of this season. Mason, fresh off a brutal performance Friday night in Toronto, did come in and play a very solid two periods Saturday after Neuvirth left with the injury, leading the Flyers to a 3-2 win over the Minnesota Wild.
But even if Neuvirth’s recovery — Hextall doesn’t think it will require surgery — lasts a minimum of four weeks, that means Mason would still have to play 14 more consecutive games while Stolarz does what he usually does here: Practice.
“Anthony’s done a good job with the Phantoms,” Hextall said. “He’s had a couple of years down in the American League, he’s continued to get better, so we’ll see where it goes.”
Well it goes without saying that the time is ripe to see what you have in Stolarz. While Mason, as he showed late last winter, can be an almost every-day goalie, he was charged with that mission then because coach Dave Hakstol was trying to ramp him up for the playoffs.
This situation isn’t nearly the same. It’s early in the season, and the current compacted season schedule has been brutal with backto-backs.
So, of course we’re going to see Stolarz play ... ?
“Yeah, I think you will,” Hakstol said. “It’s a great opportunity for Anthony to continue what he’s done over the last year and a couple of months here in the American Hockey League. He’s proven that he’s ready to be here.”
But Hextall, while not countering his coach’s call, didn’t seem convinced about the 22-year-old Stolarz. Or maybe he was just jousting.
“We’re in the business of winning games, not in trying players out or seeing new players or whatever,” Hextall said. “It’s not as exciting for us as maybe it is for you. You guys always seem to want a new body or a new face. That’s not our business.”
But shortly afterward, Hextall hinted at something that might be behind his thinking. Something he pulled from his deep thoughts ... something a little haunting.
“You don’t want to bring a young goalie in here and put it on his back that he’s the savior, like some people think we should do right now,” Hextall said. “(Stolarz) is going to practice and he’s going to be part of our team. That’s a much better situation to assimilate a young goalie into the fold, than bringing him up with two healthy guys and saying, ‘OK, you’re our guy.’”
Then, as if the example was obvious, Hextall suddenly added, “You remember years ago, Pelletier?” Oh . ... Ohhh. Pelletier, as in Jean-Marc. From a French-Canadian family but born in Atlanta. Drafted by the Flyers after two years at Cornell University as a BACKUP goalie. He went in the second round, 30th overall, in 1997. Like Stolarz, Pelletier was the Flyers’ first pick that year. It was just one year after they had drafted supposed goalie of the future, Maxime Ouellet, and it was one year before general manager Bob Clarke would sign 34-yearold free agent goalie John Vanbiesbrouck in July 1998.
Franchise icon Ron Hextall was still around then, too.
It came to pass for a very good Flyers team in March 1999 that the 34-year-old Hextall didn’t have the confidence of coach Roger Neilson, and Vanbiesbrouck allowed a couple of bad goals in Montreal, the Flyers’ fourth consecutive loss. Beezer was toast, but rather than go back to Hextall, Clarke and Neilson brought up the former Cornell sophomore who was now a first-year pro for the Phantoms. to play the next night against the visiting Ottawa Senators at First Union Center.
“I can’t remember what the score was,” Hextall said, “but we lost.”
Pelletier had hung in there through all of a 5-0 loss to the Senators. Neilson raged after the game, making plans to get Beezer back in net. The Flyers, just a short time removed from being near the top of the conference, didn’t know they were on their way to a 12-game winless skid (no shootouts back then). By the time they hit the playoffs they were a lost team, flopping to Toronto in six games in the first round.
Told by one countering jouster Monday that Pelletier didn’t last long here after his one-game stint, Hextall shot back, “Maybe that was why.”
Pelletier went on to play 24 games with the Phantoms the next season when he was shipped to the Carolina Hurricanes with Rod Brind’Amour for Keith Primeau in Jan. 2000. Pelletier would bounce around in the minors, eventually playing six more NHL games with the Phoenix Coyotes in the early 2000s. After another couple of minor league seasons he went to Germany, and finished his career there in 2010 with the Hamburg Freezers.
In 2011 he went back to Cornell to get his degree.
So the moral of this touchy general manager memory?
“You don’t put young people in a position to fail,” Hextall said. “You put young people in a position to succeed. With Neuvy hurt right now, we have two goalies and our two goalies are Mase and Stolie. So we’ll see where it goes . ... Stolie’s our second guy right now. There’s a chance he’ll get into a game. We’ll see.”
By the way, the Flyers’ opponent at Wells Fargo Center Tuesday night is the Ottawa Senators. Just sayin’.
Working in an exhibition game for the Flyers this season, Anthony Stolarz, left, tends goal against the New Jersey Devils Sept. 28 in Allentown.