The San Jose Sharks’ goaltending has been the subject of much conversation, and now with both Adin Hill and James Reimer battling injuries and the clear hesitance to play backup Zach Sawchenko, the Sharks have added to their goaltending arsenal with a familiar face.
34-year-old goaltender Alex Stalock was sent to the Sharks from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for future considerations on yesterday. He was drafted by the Sharks in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft (fourth round, 112th overall) and he spent five years with the Sharks, from the 2010-11 season until 2016. Since then, he’s been with the Minnesota Wild and the Edmonton Oilers organizations, although his career hit a roadblock when he spent the entire 2020-21 season dealing with myocarditis, due to contracting COVID-19 in Nov. 2020.
Needless to say, his journey back to an NHL net hasn’t been easy, which makes his return to the Sharks all the more meaningful.
“Early on it was tough. It’s 18 months off and you’re doing a lot of medical testing and that gets kind of old you know, you get sick of it. [But I] got some good news in December and started ramping it up back home in Minnesota and then came out to California in January and got cranked up and got into some games and feeling good again,” Stalock said. “Knowing you can come back and play and the excitement of playing hockey again, that to me was the biggest thing to get through that first game. It was kind of an emotional deal to be able to say I can still do this and be around a group of guys again and have fun and do what I love to do.”
It had been 535 days since Alex Stalock’s last game when he got between the pipes on Jan. 23 for the Bakersfield Condors. And even though he never hit the ice officially for the Oilers, Stalock had nothing but praise to describe how the Oilers’ organization treated him, especially during his health issues.
“But throughout the summer and all, this medical stuff, they’ve been unbelievable with understanding the unknowns of what’s going on, with COVID and stuff that transpired out of it,” Stalock said of the Oilers. “They were tremendous through the whole process. Early on, it was s new thing with myocarditis and athletes’ hearts and when an athlete passed away, it kind of came out that it was from a heart condition from COVID. So when I first got diagnosed, the first couple weeks were scary – you get told to not get your heart rate up, and you know how hard that is when you’ve got kids, like, can you keep up with them? So it was a little scary but great to have the medical treatment.”
Alex isn’t a stranger to potentially career-ending injuries, after having a nerve cut with a skate blade in 2011, and suffering subsequent knee problems.
“It hasn’t been easy. There have been some tough situations and hopefully, it’s just another bump in the road…But I had one thing on my mind, to get out there and get a sweat on and get some work done and get back on. So it was a good day. It was fun,” Stalock noted.
The benefit of having played with the San Jose Sharks before means that Alex Stalock is a not-so-new new guy, whose welcome to the team included some familiar faces out on the ice with him for practice.
“Burnzie, Nietsy, the guys I’ve been with [texted me yesterday]. But we were actually here last week with Bakersfield, so I got to see Burnzie and Logan last week. It’s just kind of funny, a week later here I am on their team, but it’s exciting,” he said after practice today. “They’re joking around or shooting pucks and they wanted to score [on me today] and all that but same old guys, you know, they’re great teammates, and it’s good to be back on the same team with them.”
But the team doesn’t just stop at the guys in the jerseys. Stalock has an old friend in San Jose Sharks’ goaltending coach Evgeni Nabokov. Stalock was in the Sharks organization when Nabokov was still San Jose’s starter: “It’s a great opportunity. He understands the game very well and he’s a guy that I can learn a ton from. Not just the technical stuff but mentally, how he approaches [the game]. We play the game in a similar way, and it’s that process of how we play situations and he’s awesome to have a guy here to bounce stuff off of.”
Despite the bumps in the road, Alex Stalock is endlessly positive on where he is right now, mentally and physically, and that extends to his perspective on joining the Sharks, including having strong practices and hopefully, strong games to win for the team.
“I’m excited…When you go in and you’ve had a long time off, [but] you played in the league…that’s just getting up to speed and saying, Hey, I’m back, settling in and making a pretty good run there,” he said. “The body feels good. Having that much time off, you can feel some kind of bumps and bruises and stuff, but the body feels great. And that’s the best part and obviously, having my heart and head in a good spot is the most important part.”
By all accounts, it seems like he’s ready to step onto the ice and make a difference for the Sharks already.
For what it’s worth, when we last saw Alex Stalock in the NHL, he was polishing off an 11-4-1 and .920 run to wrap up the 2019-20 regular season, taking the Minnesota Wild’s starting job from Devan Dubnyk in the process.
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