Like any other year in the NHL, there have been many surprises in the 2014-15 NHL season. Blockbuster trades take place, teams take unexpected dive bombs after what seemed like a promising season, and season ending injuries take huge blows to a contending team. However, the biggest surprises of this season has been the prevalence of lesser goalies unexpectedly turning a team’s season around. These are some of the goalie Cinderella stories of this season.
The Minnesota Wild’s 2014-15 season was looking promising after a strong playoff performance the previous season. Despite a hot start from young goalie Darcy Kuemper at the beginning of the NHL season, the Wild slowly slipped into obscurity in the NHL standings as the season progressed. This was capped off with the team losing 12 of 14 games leading up to January 13th 2015. Being 7 points away from the second Wild Card Spot and last in their division, the Wild were a team desperate for a change.
Enter Devan Dubnyk. Dubnyk was drafted 14th overall by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2004 NHL draft and went on to be the main goalie for the struggling Oilers for the four tears leading up to his trade to the Nashville Predators at the 2013-14 NHL Trade Deadline. Struggling with the Predators, he was traded to the Montreal Canadiens and immediately sent to the minors for the rest of the season. Dubnyk then went on to sign with the Arizona Coyotes, backing up Mike Smith for one of the worst teams in the league. On January 14th 2015, Dubnyk was traded to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for the Wild’s 2015 Third Round Draft Pick.
What at first seemed like a fairly insignificant trade in the grand scope of the NHL, Dubnyk showed the hockey world what he was made of by posting a 24-6-1 record in 32 straight starts. Boasting a .938 Save Percentage and a 1.71 Goals Against Average, Dubnyk is turning heads and has single handily turned the Minnesota Wild from a full scale tanking team to a serious Stanley Cup Contender.
On January 31st 2015, New York Rangers starting goalie “The King” (AKA Henrik Lundqvist) was slain. Well, not really, he took a puck to the throat against the Carolina Hurricanes, finished playing that game, then played another full game on February 2nd. After experiencing concerning headaches after the game on February 2nd, Lundqvist was then was forced to go on injured reserve due to a risk of a stroke from a sprained blood vessel in his throat. This meant trouble for the 2014 Stanley Cup Final runner ups, with ‘The King’ being the one strong constant on a team that has gone through many management and roster changes over the past few seasons.
Compared to Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers’ Cam Talbot is a relatively inexperienced goaltender who has proven himself to be a capable back-up goaltender for the Rangers with a 12-6-1 record with a .941 SV% and a 1.64 GAA in the 2013-14 season. Up until Lundqvist’s injury, Talbot posted a 4-4-1 record with a .936 SV% and a 2.16 GAA this season. Since taking the reins of the starting goaltending job for the Rangers, Talbot has posted a 16-4-3 record with a .929 SV% and a 2.16 GAA. With any team losing their starting goaltender, a drop in the standings is to be expected. However, the Rangers have surged from 11th place in the league to 1st place in the league, questioning his back-up goaltending job with the supposed return of Henrik Lundqvist in the next few weeks.
The Ottawa Senators mired in the bottom of the NHL Standings for most of the 2014-15 NHL season. Five weeks ago, on February 17th 2015, the Ottawa Senators were 11th in the Eastern conference and 10 points out of the Second Wild Card spot. At this point in the season, if a team is at least close to a playoff spot, that team’s season is pretty much a write off barring some miracle. In the Senators’ case, that miracle comes in the form of a McDonald’s mascot.
Andrew Hammond, nicknamed “The Hamburglar” from his college days for his ability to eat up all of the pucks shot his way, has turned the Senator’s season from a bust to a Cinderella story. Losing his first game in regulation last night, Hammond has posted a 14-1-1 record with a .938 SV% and a 1.92 GAA in 16 straight starts, Hammond’s strong performance has launched the Ottawa Senators into the Second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. The City of Ottawa has gone nuts about “The Hamburglar”, making it rain McDonald’s Hamburgers in the Canadian Tire Centre with each win Hammond keeps stacking onto his record setting season.
I do feel Talbot’s story is a short lived one this season though, with Lundqvist’s return as a near undisputed starter for the New York Rangers looming in the horizon. Dubnyk’s and Hammond’s stories are just the beginning for the both of them, with both of them hopefully making strong performances down this final stretch of the season and into the playoffs.
One of the great things about hockey, which also applies to televised sports in general, is that we as fans get to witness Cinderella Stories as they unfold. These stories, like the ones mentioned in this article, bring a level of excitement and emotion to sports that add reason to sports fans fanaticism. I think the experience is all the more unique and prevalent in hockey with the importance of goaltenders to the game, with a goaltender clearly making or breaking a team.
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Cover Photo Credit: Lachlan Macintosh/ingoalmag.com