Saturday, December 13, 2008

Dear Hockey East; Thanks for the goalies. Love, The NHL

I feel like the NHL is going through a giant injury epidemic so far this season, especially to starting goalies. But not to fear - three Hockey East alums are here!

In the span of a month and a half, three recent Hockey East alums have taken advantage of injuries to starting goaltenders to start NHL games and begin to make a name for themselves: Cory Schneider, late of Boston College, Ben Bishop, a former University of Maine Black Bear, and John Curry, a graduate of Boston University. All had spectacular college hockey careers in Hockey East, and that they are logging NHL ice time is no surprise to the conference's fans.

Cory Schneider, a 2004 draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks and a former member of the U.S. World Junior Championship team, led Boston College to two national championship appearances prior to leaving school after his junior year. After spending a season with the AHL's Maintoba Moose, Schneider was called up on November 25 after a thigh injury to Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo.

Schneider had a stellar beginn
ing to his season in the AHL, going 10-1-0 before his call up. He has seen game time in five NHL games, starting three. His only win has been a 2-1 decision against the Minnesota Wild on December 5, but his losses were all close, one goal games. In his last game, December 7 against Colorado, Schneider faced his first shootout and lost. With Luongo reportedly suffering a setback late this week, Schneider will remain in the Canucks goalie rotation with Curtis Sanford.

According to several Canucks journalists , including
Matthew Sekeres of the Globe and Mail, Schneider's callup will be useful to evaluate his talent and potential trade worth. Schneider tends to go through growing pains when he gets called up a level - for example, he was definitely shaky during the first half of the 2007-08 AHL season - but the NHL experience should definitely help him. Schneider is an especially alert goalie, and controls rebounds well.

Ben Bishop, a 2005 draft pick of his hometown St. Louis Blues, got his first chance in the big leagues after Manny Legace was tripped up by then-Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin's puck-drop carpet in October. Merely filling in for Legace in that game gave Bishop a place in NHL history, becoming the tallest goalie to ever play an NHL game at 6 foot 7 inches tall. In his first call up, Bishop started three games with the Blues, earning a shut-out on October 25 against Florida. He also had a shootout loss against San Jose. Bishop was sent back down to the Peoria Rivermen after Legace's recovery.

Wednesday night, Legace suffered a concussion, and Bishop was recal
led again from Peoria. He saw playing time on Thursday night when he was put in in relief of starter Chris Mason in a 6-2 loss. Bishop is a solid goalie due to his sheer size and ability to cover the entire net. It will be interesting to see the Blues' plans with Bishop, given their lackluster record thus far and Legace's injuries.

The Pittsburgh Penguins announcers have taken a liking to comparing Penguins rookie John Curry to "Rudy," and the comparison is not far off. A 2007 graduate of Boston University, Curry was a college walk-on who became an All-American and Hobey Baker Award finalist. Despite many NHL scouts labeled him as "too small," the Penguins organization signed him as an undrafted free agent. Spending the beginning of the 2007-08 season between Wheeling and Las Vegas of the ECHL, he was called up to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins after their starting goaltender Ty Conklin took the place of an injured Marc-Andre Fleury. He ended up in goal for the Baby Pens through their Calder Cup appearance, earning AHL All-Rookie Team honors.

But wait! If that wasn't enough to earn the "Rudy" comparisons, Curry was working through back and ankle injuries during the start of the Baby Pens season, and was in a goalie rotation with AHL journeyman Adam Berkhoel. When Fleury went down in mid-November with another lower body injury, Curry got the call up to Pittsburgh to back up Dany Sabourin. On November 26, after Sabourin let up three goals early against the NY Islanders, Curry was inserted in the game and made eleven saves, earning his first NHL win. On November 28, Curry got his first start against the Buffalo Sabres, where he made twenty-eight saves, including several of his famous contorinistic saves in the third to keep the Penguins in the game, in the loss against the Sabres. On Thursday, Curry started against the Islanders again, making 24 saves in a 9-2 Penguins win. Fleury has returned to health, and Curry was sent back down to Wilkes-Barre Scranton on Friday. Curry reacts quickly and is extremely acrobatic and fun to watch, which quickly earned him fans in Pittsburgh.

Now, while my loyalties definitely lie with the former BU Terrier Curry, it is great to see all three recent Hockey East goalies get NHL playing time. All were outstanding in net for their respective college teams, and will hopefully will continue to make names for themselves in the NHL.

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