Josef Korenar’s AHL career may be only 18 games long, but on Friday night he put together a performance for the ages.
The 20-year-old AHL All-Star turned away 40 of 41 shots, leading the San Jose Barracuda to a 2-1 win over the defending Western Conference champion Texas Stars. Jayden Halbgewachs scored the game winner late in the first period with his tenth of the year, giving the ‘Cuda their fourth win in their last five games.
For the young Czech goalie, the high number of shots he faced felt more like a blessing than a burden. “Twenty shots in the first period is a lot, but I think every goalie wants to save that many shots in a period cause you feel so good,” Korenar said after the win. “The last two games I lost, I had like twenty shots every game, and that’s bad for a goalie. Today it was forty, and that was really good.”
While the first three minutes of play were controlled entirely by the Stars and forced Kyle Wood into taking an early slashing penalty, it was the Barracuda that made the most of their early chances. After Manny Wiederer and Maxim Letunov worked their way into the corner of the Texas zone, a weird bounce put the puck right on the stick on the trailing Matt Fonteyne. A rolling screen by Letunov gave Fonteyne the time and space to rip a surprise shot from along the boards past Stars’ goalie Landon Bow to notch his first goal in 14 games.
Texas got a golden opportunity to tie the game midway through the period, when Adam Mascherin pounced on a rebound in front of the Barracuda goal. Mascherin’s shot beat Korenar, but Keaton Middleton made the save of the game, swiping the puck off the goal line.
The Stars threw an astounding 20 shots on goal in the opening frame, but as Korenar kicked out every shot he faced, Texas’ frustration began to show through, starting in the form of a Michael Mersch roughing penalty. On the ensuing power play, a breakaway chance by Halbgewachs was denied by Bow before a late backcheck by Stars defender Shane Hanna sent him crashing into the boards behind the net. While Halbgewachs took his time getting up after the hit, it didn’t him stop from getting back into the play and knocking a Cavan Fitzgerald shot home past the fallen Stars netminder to double the team’s lead after the first period.
The Stars’ dominance continued into the second period, and a Barracuda faceoff violation penalty five minutes in finally gave them the break they needed. Just ten seconds into their power play, Erik Condra and Justin Dowling set up a one-timer for Gavin Bayreuther, who ripped the shot past Korenar’s glove to cut San Jose’s lead in half.
But that’s as close as Texas would get, with Korenar standing tall to stop 20 out of 21 in the final two periods and his Barracuda teammates finishing with a strong third period performance, outshooting the Stars 15-9.
While the names and faces have changed a lot from the Stars team that made it to the Calder Cup Final last season, Barracuda coach Roy Sommer still feels there’s something extra to gain from staying with the Western champs, especially in a tough night offensively. “That team’s on a roll. They’re playing good hockey, and I thought we played the way we were capable of in the third. Take out the first and the second, and you’ve got a game.”
San Jose will play their last home game prior to the All-Star break on Monday, when they play host to the Bakersfield Condors at 7 p.m. Pacific.