Ahead of a back-to-back weekend series against the Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks, the San Jose Sharks hit the ice for practice on Thursday. This practice comes two days after goaltender James Reimer left after the first period against Vegas and less than 24 hours after acquiring goaltender Alex Stalock from the Edmonton Oilers.
Head coach Bob Boughner and both goaltenders spoke to the media about expectations for this weekend, goaltending and Stalock’s return to San Jose.
Here are the highlights from what they had to say:
On Reimer’s injury: He got assessed yesterday and had an MRI, it just shows a slight lower-body injury. At this point, it’s probably week-to-week. We’re hoping it’s sooner than that, but it’s probably just fatigue, and you need to shut him down for a few days here and see how he feels. I don’t think it’s anything season-ending, just week-to-week.
On Stalock: I talked to him this morning and got the gist of how his last little while has gone, I think his last game was a week and a half ago. I know he hasn’t played a lot down there, but he’s been practicing every day and playing his games when called upon, so he’s ready. We’re not gonna make any judgment on what’s gonna happen this weekend. Hill came out today ready to go, but he’s had good days and bad days so far, so we’re still waiting for those three, four good days in a row, so [that] we feel comfortable putting him in. There’s a lot of question marks, so we gotta see how everyone feels after today, and probably won’t be making decisions on goaltending until at least tomorrow afternoon, after practice, when we go through one more round of it.
On Hill: He felt better this morning. His plan was to get out there, skate around, he’s going to do a little extra work after practice if I’m not mistaken. I wanted Staler and I wanted Sawzy to get the net and see the majority of the work today, because we have to make decisions moving forward and that’s just how it goes.
We’re gonna talk about maybe putting him in full practice tomorrow, and I’m gonna talk to Nabby and the medical staff right now and see where he’s at. Two days ago, it wasn’t a very good day, and then this morning he came in and said he felt a bit better. It’s one of those things where we’re trying to get a few good days in a row.
On Sawchenko: Absolutely, there’s no slight to him. I think you’re a team that’s fighting for your lives, and Reimer has played pretty well all season, and you wanna go with your number one, your best option to give yourself the best chance possible. I was very wary of putting him in those back-to-back situations, both on the last Eastern road trip and this past weekend, but Reims has reacted well to both. He had a few days off after that, before we went to Vegas. I just think it’s a situation where he’s played a lot of hockey. With Sawzy, it’s just the situation that was at hand, we wanted to play our number one.
On bringing in a familiar face with Stalock: He’s got good friendships in that room, which just helps our culture a little bit, helps our room. He’s a guy that plays a lot of energy, and he’s gonna get out there and play aggressively. It’s a great option for us, the guy has a lot of NHL experience. I know last year was tough on him with the COVID thing, but he had a couple of really good years in Minnesota before that. Al’s in good shape, he’s not the biggest of guys, but he’s always kept himself in great shape. I thought he looked good out there today.
On having both goaltenders out at the same time: It’s very rare that you have both of your guys hurt at the same time. I think that would affect any NHL team, not just ours. It’s an odd situation to be in, and this would have been a situation where (Hill) could have run with it. Even over the last little while, coming in and giving a great start when Reims needed a rest. It’s unfortunate and we’re dealing with that part of it, but I’m just hoping that everyone else responds around our goaltending and knows the situation. Maybe that ups our urgency level to defend harder and spend less time in our end.
On his injury: Not too bad, I just kind of got something there in the first. Kind of week-to-week here, see how it goes. Hopefully, it’s shorter rather than longer.
On when the injury happened: I think it was a little later in the period, but it was just a random play, and I just kind of felt something and it didn’t hold itself. Obviously, Vegas is a good team, and they were getting some chances and whatnot, but I was able to hang in there and get some good saves. By the end there, it wasn’t feeling great.
When it happens, you kind of test it out and feel it and you see what’s gonna happen, how it’s gonna respond, and it just didn’t feel like something was right. Obviously, I went to the hospital, got everything checked out yesterday. It turns out, there’s a little something there, so you know. Like I said, hopefully it’s not too many weeks.
On concern for a bigger injury: No, not really, even after I was out of the game. The weird thing is, sometimes you never notice, you have so much adrenaline, and the endorphins, sometimes you’re not sure of what’s exactly going on, right? I’ve had something similar before in my career, and it felt similar to that, so I wasn’t too worried that it was going to be something super long-term, but you never know until you get the picture taken.
On fatigue being a factor: Not really, not any more than you can make the excuse of not playing for a week or two and then jumping in there. Whenever you’re playing this game and this sport, there’s always gonna be factors that stress your body, right? On this whole run — maybe funny isn’t the right word — but in the game against Vegas, that might be the best, or randomly, the most energy I’ve had and the best my body’s felt, and that’s the game where it decides to not work. You can look into things whichever way you want, but I felt really good going into that game. It’s just weird how sometimes things happen.
On Sawchenko: I mean, obviously, Al’s had a pretty solid NHL career so far, and he’s won a lot of games, so if Boogie decides to go with him, I’m sure he’ll do really well. In the short term here, seeing Sawzy every day in practice, he’s been, in my mind, impressive. He works his butt off and he cares about his game and playing well. He works hard and is pretty intuitive, so I think he’s done really well with the opportunities he’s been given, so if Boogie gives him the tap, I’m sure he’ll do really well.
On Hill: Hiller is one of the ultimate competitors. He loves to play, and he loves to play hard. I think, like all good goalies, he’s a perfectionist too, in the way you go out there and you want to be your best. Especially for a guy like that, having this nagging injury that doesn’t seem to want to clear up and keeps presenting itself, you think you’re kind of getting over it, and then all of a sudden something comes up. He’s a good pro, and he’s got a good head on his shoulders, he’s staying with it, but like anybody, you get frustrated.
I had something similar like this in my career too, where there’s something going on that’s just adversity trying to get over. I think everybody has it when you play long enough, so it’s just his time to battle through that adversity and stay positive because eventually things are gonna clear up and you’re gonna get back to playing. You gotta trust that your body’s gonna find a way to heal itself up.
On how long he’s out for: Off the ice, I’m not even quite sure. It’s such a day-to-day thing. I’m sure I’ll be off the ice for a couple days for sure. It just honestly depends on how you feel. You wake up in the morning and you test it out and you kind of decide whether it’s strong enough to get on the ice. I’m sure it’ll be a couple days, but hopefully not more than a couple weeks.
Is there a chance it’ll be shorter? Potentially. Is there a chance it’ll be longer? Potentially. It’s so based on how my body responds right now. Like I said, shorter rather than longer.
That’s the other thing you have to do, you have to be smart. Talking about your career, going through adversity. A bunch of years ago, I had a similar thing, and I came back too soon. First game back, I hurt it and was out for six weeks, so you never want that to be the case. No one looks good in that case. You gotta make sure you’re ready to go 100 percent when you come back.
On the reacquisition: Obviously, it was in a tough situation — kind of a logjam goalie situation with the Oilers. They had a prospect there that was playing a lot of games, and well deserved, he’s had a heck of a season. You understand the business and he’s gotta play games and be NHL-ready in case something happens there. Just fortunate enough to come back here and get a chance and be comfortable with the staff, the players, trainers and all that stuff. It’s an exciting time for sure.
On how it’s felt coming back: Early on it was tough, 18 months off, and you’re doing a lot of medical testing. It gets kind of old, you get sick of it. Got some good news in December, started ramping it up back home in Minnesota. Came out to California in January and got cranked up and into some games and I’m feeling good again. The most fun part has been knowing you can come back and play and the excitement of playing hockey again, and to me, it was the biggest thing. To get through that first game, it was kind of an emotional deal to be able to say “I can still do this,” and to be around a group of guys again and have fun, do what I love to do, it’s a joy.
On the Oilers organization: Unbelievable, from how it went and ended in Minnesota, to get claimed off waivers from them and to go up and be part of the run they went on last year is pretty special, and unfortunate they lost in a short playoff series. Throughout the summer and all this medical stuff, they’ve been unbelievable with understanding all the unknowns with what’s going on with COVID and the stuff that transpired out of it. They were helpful through the whole thing, and their medical staff, Ken Holland, they were tremendous throughout the whole process.
On his health journey: Early on, it was kind of the new thing, the myocarditis, athletes’ hearts. Obviously, when an athlete would pass away, it kind of came out that it was from a heart condition, from COVID and all that stuff. When I first got diagnosed, the first couple of weeks were actually pretty scary, with a lot of unknowns. Getting told, “Don’t get your heart rate up,” well how hard is that gonna be? You got kids, can you keep up with them and all that? It was a little scary, but great to have the medical treatment I had in Minnesota and to get through it. Like I said, just to be back and around a group playing again is unbelievable.
Weird injuries, and weird whatever-it’s-been, they haven’t been easy. There have been some tough situations, and hopefully it’s just another bump in the road, a hurdle you can get over, a little setback, and here we go again.
On the support: The whole time, my wife and kids have been like, “It’s what you do, go do it, we’ll support you 100 percent.” They’re excited to put the teal jerseys back on, I know that.
On the reception from the team: Yeah, Burnzie, Nietsy and guys that I’ve been with welcomed me. We were actually here last week with Bakersfield, they were playing the ‘Cuda, and I got to see Burnzie and Logan last week. It’s just kind of funny how a week later, I’m on their team. It’s exciting.
On working with Evgeni Nabokov: Pretty special. When you think of goaltending in San Jose, obviously Nabokov’s the guy everybody thinks of. Now, to be your coach, it’s a great opportunity. He understands the game very well. It’s a guy I can learn a ton from, not just technical stuff, but mentally and how he approaches it. I feel we play the game similarly, thought process, situationally, how we play situations, and he’s awesome to have.
On former teammate Burns and Couture: They were joking around, shooting pucks. They wanted to score and all that. Same old guys, they’re great teammates. It’s good to be back on the same team as them.
On getting cleared in December: I did a genetic test that deemed that I did not carry a gene for HCM, which is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. It came back negative, which wasn’t positive just for me, but more so for my kids, so they didn’t carry the gene either. It would be a scary situation if it did get passed on. Once that cleared and came back and I knew for sure it wasn’t that issue, it was a matter of testing it and seeing how it reacts.
On the upcoming games this weekend: I’m excited. Whatever opportunity you get going there, you know you’re gonna play the same way, play as hard as you can and give your team a chance to win. If you get a chance in there, you know what you need to do.
I had a good skate today, and obviously I’ve been practicing in Bakersfield, played five games down there. Haven’t been in the NHL since the [playoff] bubble in Edmonton, so there’s been a gap there, but it’s just like any goalie that gets called up. It’s just getting up to speed, coming back, settling in, and making saves.
On getting back to his game: The body feels good, obviously. Having that much time off, you can heal some bumps and bruises and stuff that was maybe ailing you. My body feels great, and that’s the best part. My heart and head being in a good spot are the most important.
*Lightly edited for clarity.