Photo courtesy of Sharkspage.com
Thomas Greiss has had success as a backup this year. Alex Stalock turned heads when he shut out the Phoenix Coyotes in relief of Antti Niemi after a strong rookie season in Worcester. JP Anderson made a name for himself in the Penticton Rookie Tournament.
But what about Tyson Sexsmith?
Of all the talk about the strength of San Jose's stable of minor league goalies, you hardly ever heard Tyson Sexsmith's name mentioned the last couple of years. True, he had a few poor seasons recovering from injury. True, he hasn't exactly lit up the minor leagues.
Well, that is, before this year. The 22 year old Sexsmith is currently fourth in the AHL in save percentage (.931) and third in goals against (1.80) after starting 12 games for San Jose's top developmental affiliate. He's lighting up the AHL as one of the up and coming goalies in the league, even though at one point it was questioned if he would ever be a successful netminder.
It's a question he's faced before.
"My parents always wanted me to be a player, and they said that focusing on your skating was the most important thing," said Sexsmith, who's parents thought he would be better suited as a forward or defenseman. But at seven years old, the young man made a choice, "I'd practice half as a player and half as a goalie."
The lifelong comittment to goaltending, with an emphasis on practice, practice, practice, seems to be paying off for Sexsmith. After a rough 2010-2011 campaign, he has become more of what the Sharks organization thought he would be when they drafted him 91st overall in the 2007 NHL entry draft. This quick rise didn't come without a few bumps on the way, though.
It was a tough year for him last year, as he struggled through injuries and saw himself slipping down the list of promising goalies in the San Jose system.
"When I broke my hand, it obviously wasn't what I wanted to have happen, but it's out of your control," said Sexsmith. "You're missing ten, twelve weeks with that injury, and I was obviously disappointed."
However, through injury, Sexsmith continued to train and make himself stronger. After coming back and proving himself with Stockton of the ECHL, he caught his break: a call up to the AHL Worcester Sharks. "I think the turning point was when I was called up to Worcester and I was able to play in some games," claimed Sexsmith, who had only played a handful of matches during the season at any level. "I felt like I played well and I finally showed what I could do. Most important, I finally got the trust back from the guys in the dressing room, which was huge."
Once that ball got rolling, and he gained confidence, Sexsmith built on the opportunity. "Coming into this year, it just took off from where it was last year, it felt like I had pretty good numbers. The guys in front of me, though, played well and overall I'd say it was pretty easy to play with this group of guys."
"I just wanted to go out and battle every night and get a chance to play the next night. Obviously, with the past two seasons that I had, they weren't what I expected them to be. So I really had something to prove coming into this season. From the start I tried to give the team a chance to win every night."
That he has. Sexsmith has allowed just 1.80 goals per game on average for Worcester this year. Although the team hasn't had the season they wanted so far (especially in a difficult month of November), Sexsmith hasn't been the problem. In fact, he's been one of the lone bright spots.
You wouldn't know it from talking to him, though. As you saw above, Sexsmith is quick to deflect the praise from himself to his teammates. While he knows that he's having a good year, he thanked his defense on multiple occasions and claimed them a factor in his newfound success.
"I feel that I'm seeing the puck well, stated Sexsmith, "a compliment to the team, the defense boxing out and allowing me to see those shots. This year, I feel like I'm on top of pucks and seeing everything - but when I get in a groove and get going it feels like I'm back in junior, when I would play almost every game. You know, I feel like I have the same mentality this year as I did last year, that nothing it going to beat me. The confidence and trust in your teammates and having them trust in you. It's a feeling that you get when you really trust in someone."
Sexsmith, who plays a "hybrid-butterfly style" by his own description, is a player who shies away from the flash and the spotlight.
"I feel like everything should be a routine save for me," said the confident young man. "I feel like I'm technically sound. I like to make the routine save, I'm not a flashy goalie by any means. I'm not going to be the one who swings his glove on a save, I'm just going to have it in the right place and make everything look easy. It's the way I've always wanted to play and it's the way that I play."
That play is paying off in spades for both Sexsmith and San Jose. While there is certainly competition for that holy grail of roster spots (one of two net minding spots with the big club), Sexsmith takes that competition as a positive.
"I think it definitely helps. Obviously there's friendly competition and it forces you to be better. Sometimes you may think it's too many goalies," Sexsmith joked, "but obviously they don't."
The road to the NHL won't be easy, but Sexsmith seems prepared and ready. Does the unflappable goaltender have any weaknesses?
"You'd have to ask Nick Petrecki," laughed Sexsmith, "he's always the guy that's giving it to me."