Fireside Chats: Al Stalock

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Al Stalock was chosen by the San Jose Sharks with their third selection (112th overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Before starting his professional career this season with the Worcester Sharks, he was honored as a 2009 NCAA First Team All-American while attending the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

Since then he has posted a 2.50 GAA and a .907 SV% with San Jose's minor league affiliate, earning rave reviews along the way from Sharkspage's Worcester correspondent Daryl Hunt, as well as being named to the 2009 AHL All-Star Team. Mr. Stalock prefers to be called Al as opposed to Alex, and although we didn't think of it until after the interview, if he ever decided to begin a career as a professional wrestler Paul Simon's "You Can Call Me Al" would be a perfect intro song. "The Stalock Slam" also sounds like a super sweet finishing move, but we digress.

Fear the Fin would like to thank Al Stalock and Worcester Sharks Director of Public Relations Eric Linquist for making this interview happen. Enjoy.

You’ve been known to play the puck consistently, and your goaltending coach Corey Schwab had some lofty compliments for you earlier this season. Any notable goaltenders who influenced this aspect of your game when you were growing up, or did you just pick it up playing forward in youth hockey?

I think I’d have to say a little of both led me to playing the puck consistently. When I was in youth hockey I tended to skate out quite a bit, played forward here and there. I think that helped in a way, just to be able to see the ice and watch plays happen.

To answer the second part, I think watching Marty Brodeur when I was younger was an influence. He plays the puck but he’s so smart about it. Very seldom do you see him make an error that costs his team. That’s what I try to do, not too flashy so it’s hardly noticeable, but you’re making the right play every time.

The trapezoid rule has been a hot topic amongst the GM's lately, and it seems as if there is some burgeoning support for getting rid of it entirely. Something tells us you wouldn't be opposed.

Yeah, definitely. There are positives and negatives though. Injury wise, it does take your defenseman low, makes them have to play a slow puck. It’s a race to the puck in the corner and the goaltender could have played it but he can’t because of the rule. I think that’s tough for both the goalie and the defenseman. No one wants to be hammered into the glass, especially if the goalie has the opportunity to play it.

On the other hand, it’s almost a positive for me. Especially earlier in my career I tended to get overactive with the puck, running deep into the corners. It almost helped me be more safe, I guess you could say, make smarter plays. I didn’t have to go after every single puck and that calmed me down a little bit, not having to run all over the place.

I think there are positives and negatives. If it does go away, I’ll still be smart with the puck but it will give me some more room to operate.

The Worcester Shuttle has seen a fair amount of use, with Ferriero, Couture, and McLaren, among many others, seeing some time in San Jose this season. Has this changed the makeup of the locker room when the guys return?

Yeah, but I think we’re used to it now. People are getting called up and getting sent down weekly. You know, the guys, we have a mature group of guys. Whether you get called up or get sent down, we know we’re here for a reason. We all know we’re down here to develop. Everyone knows that.

San Jose has done a great job of developing their players, we see the guys who have made it through the system up in the big club. That gives everyone positive feelings. We know we’re down here to get games, they want us to develop, and if we get that chance to get the call we go up there and do what we can. You have to give credit to our coaching staff down here, preparing us all for the National Hockey League.

If salary cap space wasn’t an issue in San Jose you would likely have seen some time with the big club this year. Is that something that’s a little disheartening?

No, no. I don’t think so. I need to play games and that’s what I’m getting here. If I get called up, hey it’s an honor, but chances are you’re not going to see the same amount of ice up there that you do down here.

For me, it’s been a great year development wise. I think, starting the year getting a feel for the professional game, getting my feet wet. Now I think it’s crucial for me to stay consistent. Consistency is something that I want to be able to have every night. That’s one thing I’m working on right now, definitely. Coming through the tough parts of the year, where it’s tough to stay healthy, it’s definitely something I’m focused on.

You mentioned playing games-- in college you were one of the league leaders in minutes played, and this year you're also tops in the AHL. Is that something you pride yourself on?

Definitely. I think that part is taken care of in the summers, preparing yourself for a year long season. If you’re in the weight room or on the bike, or just getting your body ready. We do that during the year too, to keep it up, but I think it’s crucial in the summers to make up ground in your conditioning, keep it at a high level so you’re ready to go from the start.

Knock on wood, I’ve been able to stay pretty healthy all year. I think that’s one positive of my game. I do like to play as many games as I can. Take it and run with it.

How did the experience playing against NHL talent in the preaseason help prepare you for the AHL?

I think it starts, again, in the summer. We have a great group of guys back at home, professional guys, in St. Paul and Minneapolis who skate there over the summer. Skating with guys like that gets you ready to go for camp.

That’s a whole ‘nother level though, than skating with guys trying to make the team out of camp. Then, skating with guys like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley and the other Olympians, you don’t get to skate with talent like that every day. I loved every minute up there. It was just surreal just being in the locker room with them and once you’re on the ice it’s a big step up. You learn as much as you can, I took everything from the coaches I could, and then you come down here and there’s the unbelievable skill at this level. The guys could be in the professional hockey league, but they’re still young. Same type of deal.

So many players make the jump right from juniors into the pros. In your opinion, what was the benefit of college and why did you choose to go that route?

Well, I think education would be a big part of that. You know, my brother played college hockey as well, Division III at St. Olaf in Minnesota. My parents did a great job, they were behind education the whole way.

I ended up playing junior hockey in Grand Rapids in the USHL. I played two years in that league and then in Duluth for three years. Those three years were really crucial to my development, you learn how to take care of yourself and manage your time. You’ve got school and hockey, and I think it’s important especially in professional hockey. You’ve got a lot of down time and you have to learn how to handle yourself out of the rink and be a good professional.

I think college does a great job of preparing you, but I think the same goes for junior hockey too. Their schedule is a lot like ours now.

The question going into next season for San Jose is how they will be able to keep their top tier performers like Patrick Marleau and Evgeni Nabokov since the team is strapped for cap space. With the success you've had in the first season of transitioning from college to the pros, do you think you would be able to make an impact on the big club next season if given the opportunity?

It's still early on with those guys, like you said Nabokov and Marleau are both unbelievable talents. With the cap world now it's tough to keep all the guys like that and you hope that maybe they would take a hometown discount.

To answer your second question, whatever happens with that you have to know and believe in yourself that you're ready to take that next step. If that's what they call upon and that's they need I have to be one hundred percent ready for the job. There's no leeway out there to not go out and perform at your best, and if you get called up you have to go out there and be your best. If the chance presented itself I would be definitely willing to step into that spot.

In college you were a guy that played with a lot of passion, sometimes allowing those emotions to bubble to the surface after giving up goals-- this year, by all accounts, it hasn't been an issue. Is this an aspect of your game that the coaching staff is working on with you or is it a product of maturing as a player?

I think a little of both. The coaching staff has helped me develop mentally, they knew coming in I was an emotional guy and they tried to control it for the most part. They've done a great job helping me in that aspect.

I think it's also just maturing as a player and accepting that you're not going to be perfect every night. You play an eighty game schedule and if you won every game and didn't give up any goals it wouldn't be fun ya know (laughs). That's what makes the game fun, sometimes you don't have a great night and you have to come back right away. The best part about it is when you don't have a good night and you come back and play well, it's how you get better mentally.

During your time in college some of your fellow students made a video entitled "Stalock Superfans"...

(laughs)

Were they buddies of yours or just fans of the team?

It's funny, one of my buddies called me late one night and said, "You have to check this out on Youtube", so I went and checked it out, that was the first time I saw it. They were running it for about three to four weeks and then I don't know if they jumped off the bandwagon or what (laughs).

I don't know who any of the kids were actually, just heard it through the grapevine. I think one of them was on the cross country team. They did a pretty good job with that, I think they're folk heroes up in Duluth (laughs). They should get on TV.

Is it true your reflexes are so good you can smell a fart before someone even lays one?

Oh God (laughs). Some of those lines are classic I don't know where they came up with that.

Moving on to a more serious note, the current trend of the goaltending in the NHL is netminders who are tall; Semyon Varlamov, Tuuka Rask, Pekka Rinne, and Jonas Gustavsson all come in at well over six feet. What aspect of your game have you found to be beneficial to stand out amongst these giants?

I think guys like that play more of a blocking game, and then you look at a goaltenders like Rick DiPietro, Marty Brodeur, Marty Turco, guys who aren't towering over six feet tall. Athletic goalies who use a reflex game. You look at them, athletically they're unbelievable in some of the saves they make. There's two different breeds of goalies, guys that rely on reflexes and a lot guys that rely more so on blocking and percentages.

For me, I like to rely on my athletic ability and natural reflexes to make saves along with my competiveness. Those all combine into the style of game I like to play.

A new NHL rule, set to be instituted next season, states that the height of goalie pads will be relative to the height of the netminder. Do your pads already conform to this rule and how do you think it will affect the future of the position?

Ya know what, I'm actually not sure what size my pads would be at or what size I would have to wear. I think it's a good rule, a guy like Marty Brodeur's pads are probably smaller than what they're looking at changing. It will be interesting to see how some guys pads are now versus what they are going to have to wear.

Lightning round. Scoring a goal or winning a goalie fight?

Scoring a goal.

Patrick Roy or Martin Brodeur?

Broduer.

Music on your iPod.

TI.

Conan or Leno?

Conan.

Star Wars or Star Trek.

Niether (laughs).

Favorite thing about Worcester.

Oh geez, I'll have to get back to you on that one.

If you could accomplish one thing in your professional career, besides winning the Stanley Cup, what would it be.

Scoring a goal (laughs).

Thanks for your time, and congratulations on making the All-Star Team. Good luck with the rest of your season.

Thanks, take care guys.

*****

Go Sharks.

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