THUNDERBIRDS

Early success of T-Birds’ Stankowski should not be a surprise

Mar 27, 2017, 7:20 PM | Updated: Mar 28, 2017, 8:08 am
Seattle rookie Carl Stankowski has led the T-Birds to a 2-0 series lead over Tri City (Brian Liesse...
Seattle rookie Carl Stankowski has led the T-Birds to a 2-0 series lead over Tri City (Brian Liesse/ T-Birds)
(Brian Liesse/ T-Birds)

It was the opening moments of Seattle’s Game 2 on Saturday night when it looked like the Tri-City Americans were going to take an early lead.

The Americans were on the power play and they had numbers on the rush. A pass was sent to the Americans’ Dylan Coghlan at the back post. The puck hit his stick and he shot it into the gaping net. At the last second, Thunderbirds’ goalie Carl Stankowski somehow got his left skate over to kick the puck to safety.

It was a big save and the kind of save you would expect from a seasoned veteran player.

However, that’s not who Stankowski is. The rookie goaltender is in his 16-year-old season, although he just recently turned 17, and for the second straight night gave the T-Birds excellent goaltending as they’ve taken a 2-0 series lead. It was only Stankowski’s ninth appearance in a WHL game of any kind but you wouldn’t know it by how calm and poised he was.

“I’ve always just tried to be a calm goalie and not get too overwhelmed,” Stankowski said after Game 1. “If I get overwhelmed, it gets me off my game sometimes so I try to keep cool and one puck at a time.”

He got forced into duty this past weekend as Rylan Toth continues to nurse a lower-body injury that’s kept him out of the lineup.

All the rookie has done is backstop the T-Birds to two wins while stopping 61 of the 65 shots he faced. That included two short-handed breakaways and a penalty shot in Game 1.

It might be surprising to see a rookie goalie with less than 10 games played come up with two back-to-back performances like that. It shouldn’t be though.

Stankowski isn’t just some random goalie that got thrown to the fire. The Thunderbirds expected this kind of play from him.

The team drafted Stankowski in the second round of last spring’s WHL Bantam Draft with the 37th pick. He was the first goalie selected and has a pretty solid pedigree. Playing last season for the Anaheim Junior Ducks, he posted a goals-against-average of 1.87 with a save percentage of .935.

That was good enough to get him on to Hockey Canada’s radar and he was selected to play this year for Team Canada in the U-17 tournament.

He was the best goaltender in training camp for Seattle and the team had enough faith in him that after they acquired Toth, they felt comfortable moving the older Logan Flodell and let Stankowski be the backup.

Stankowski’s season got off to a quirky start.

He gave up a goal on the first shot he saw in the WHL, in an early season game against Vancouver. The shot went off a defensemen’s leg in front of him. Bad luck for sure, but he showed then that he is able to not let a play like that derail him.

“It was an unlucky bounce,” he said of the play. “You’ve just got to shake it off when it happens and focus on the next shot.”

That night, he would go on to make 15 saves and pick up his first career win as the Thunderbirds prevailed 4-2. He then suffered an injury at the U-17 tournament that caused him to miss the bulk of the season and he only returned in the past couple of weeks.

Staying calm and not panicking seems to be a trademark of Stankowski’s play. Watching him, he doesn’t get rattled and plays with the poise of a much older player. He says that calmness isn’t by accident.

“Back in Bantam, I started to do simple Head Trajectory with Lyle Mast,” he said earlier in the year. “It really slowed the game down for me. It’s really easier to play.”

Head Trajectory is a revolution among goaltenders and is being used at all levels, including the NHL. The concept has goalies working on how they track the puck during play and by using it, their body stays calm and in position.

Cutting edge goaltending technique is not the only training Stankowski has received. His father, Brent, played goal for the Medicine Hat Tigers back in the 1981-82 season. The younger Stankowski says that his dad helps and has some fun with him.

“Ever since I was little, he’s helped me,” he says of his Dad. “He’d give me tips. Sometimes he rubs it in my face that he played in more games than me, but that motivates me to beat him in everything.”

Brent played in 18 WHL games so he still has his son beat but Carl does one have one over him.

“I have him beat on WHL playoff games so I’ll be sure to mention that to him,” Carl says with a chuckle.

As the first-round series with Tri-City moves to Kennewick this week, it’s still unknown if Toth is healthy enough to get back on the ice. It’s assumed that at some point he will and Stankowksi will be back on the bench.

But the first two games of the series have shown that, if needed, the Thunderbirds will be in pretty good hands.

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Early success of T-Birds’ Stankowski should not be a surprise