Talking AHL Goalies with Stars’ Mike Valley
Hockey people are, in general, pretty great. But goalie people are even a level above that in my experience. Generous with time and energy and information, and Dallas Stars goaltending coach Mike Valley is no different.
He took some time to chat with me mainly about his work with the Dallas AHL affiliate Texas Stars, though we also touched on Alex Auld being put on waivers today. Many many thanks for taking the time after a long road trip, Mike!
IGM: You’ve had a lot of excitement lately in your goalie ranks, right? (Kari) Lehtonen traded to you and now (Alex) Auld is on waivers…
MV: Yeah, it has been interesting. You know, we acquired Lehtonen a couple of weeks ago and everybody was kind of wondering what was going to happen. And today (Stars GM) Joe (Nieuwendyk) decided to put Auldie on waivers and we’ll see what happens here.
Alex is a good goaltender, really good goaltender, and I have a feeling that somebody’s going to pick him up, but I guess we’ll find out what happens here in the next couple of days.
IGM: Let’s talk about your AHL guys. I’ve seen Matt Climie quite a bit because he came down and helped us out in the playoffs in Houston last season. And the Stars have come through Houston quite a bit. I find Climie gripping to watch because he’s got a “Zen” thing going on that I can’t put my finger on and I’ve wanted to talk to someone who knows his game well.
MV: He’s definitely is a good goaltender. He’s come a long way since his college days. He developed a lot last season and even more so this season. I think he’s doing a nice job of proving that he’s a top American League goaltender.
He’s got a lot of assets. One is he’s got really good size, and two, he plays with a lot of athleticism, so he’s not just strictly a blocking goaltender. He has kind of that good mix between having the ability to block when he needs to but also having the ability to play reactionary at times.
He’s a fun guy to watch. Like I said, he’s got the athleticism, he likes to handle the puck and has worked on it a lot this year and I think he’s getting better and better with it. Overall I think he’s a really good competitor. He doesn’t over-think situations, so he doesn’t let his mind get in his way. He just goes out and plays. And he has the ability to really step up and play some really, really big strong games. So he’s been good this year.
IGM: To start the season, he and (Brent) Krahn were literally the best goaltending tandem in the AHL and then Krahn got hurt (sports hernia surgery), and since then, I don’t know if it’s the team that’s slipped a little bit, if Climie’s game is off, or what’s going on but he hasn’t been AS good as the beginning of the season.
MV: It’s a combination of a bunch of things. I think one is, you know, you start the year and you have two goaltenders that weren’t getting easy nights by any means. They were still getting 40 shots a night. But you had two guys that were really battling it out with each other, so you put in Krahn on one game and he would stop 36 of 37. Then you got with Climie the next night and he would do the same.
So they were really battling each other for playing time, and any time you can create that situation, it’s SO good because it keeps guys sharp. Then Krahner got hurt, and Climie got the bulk of the net, and I don’t think it’s so much that his game changed. Maybe a little bit… maybe there’s a little bit more not a sense of entitlement, but he just knew he’d be the guy playing every day, which maybe takes a little bit of the edge off of you.
But I also think that, in saying that, that the team as a whole went through a little bit more of a tougher time. So I don’t think it’s just Matt Climie. The reality of it is, his numbers are still fantastic, he’s done really well. Like I said before, he’s still a top goalie in the American League.
IGM: How is Krahn doing anyway? I read that he’s back on the ice with you and maybe close to coming back?
MV: Yeah, he is close. I joined them during this Olympic break and we were on a road swing up through Hamilton, Syracuse and up to Toronto. And Krahner made that road trip as the third goalie, just for the purpose of practicing with me and he’s really gotten himself to the point where next week he’ll be jumping into team practices and hopefully he’ll be back in the net within the next 2-3 weeks.
Obviously it’s been a tough go for him because he was playing so well , and unfortunately, he’s faced a lot of injuries throughout his career and this was just something else he had to deal with. But he’s done a nice job kind of keeping himself fit and mentally sharp and hopefully he gets a good month of playing time here before the season’s over.
IGM: How often do you get to work with the AHL guys?
MV: I probably spend on average anywhere from 5-6 days with them a month. It’s kind of a good situation that we have here because, obviously we only have 3 hours driving time between Dallas and Austin.
And my situation is that I’m with the organization around 24-25 days a month and my wife and kids are still living up in Madison, WI. So I’m kind of going back and forth. But next year if I move down here, which it looks like, then there will probably be a little more time to spend with those young guys as well.
IGM: You’ve been pretty fortunate, as Climie’s been out some, too, with the backups that you’ve had. (4th round pick Richard) Bachman has apparently done really well, and even (Todd) Ford, who is not a Dallas prospect, right?
MV: Ford was a guy that we’ve called up and he’s played well. Bachman hasn’t had a ton of playing time. He’s gotten into 6 games now and he’s done well for himself.
He’s a college goaltender who did really well in the NCAA. But he’s just kind of learning the pro game and honing his skills. Our plan was to have him play as much as he could possibly play in the East Coast league (ECHL). And because of injuries he’s spent a little more time in the American League than we originally thought, but it’s been good because we’ve been able to see exactly what he can do.
IGM: Both Krahn and Climie are unrestricted free agents this year. So Bachman is potentially your guy next year, or do you think you’ll keep these guys around? Any idea yet?
MV: It’s going to be interesting. We like them both, and I’m speaking kind of for myself here, but I’d love to have them remain in the organization. They both have tremendous talent. And both of them are pushing to get an opportunity in the NHL.
Often those opportunities come via somebody getting hurt or sick or whatever the issue is that comes up. But it’s tough for these guys–sometimes it takes a while to get your chance and when you get your chance, you want to have a guy that’s ready to play. Both Climes and Krahner are both guys that can step up and play.
IGM: Do you think some guys get labeled “journeymen” in the league and maybe they don’t get a chance due to that?
MV: I think so. I think that’s really accurate, because I think there’s a lot of times where you have guys that maybe you didn’t think could play that get a chance and all of a sudden they’re playing fantastic in the NHL.
You look in Houston at (Anton) Khudobin. Nobody really knew what he could do. I mean, last year he was in the East Coast league, came up during the playoffs, played well in the playoffs. And now he had an opportunity to play a couple of games in Minnesota. So it’s all about timing and opportunity and quite frankly for a goaltender, it’s a little bit of a different game playing in the NHL than it is in the American League. So it just goes back to getting a chance.
IGM: Speaking of Houston one of the issues we’ve had is basically just too many goalies. (Josh) Harding was supposed to be traded, (Wade) Dubielewicz was brought in, plus Khudobin and (Barry) Brust. And Brust has spent a good chunk of the season in the ECHL. And at least until Auld was put on waivers (assuming he’s picked up), how did you talk to the guys about that threat of possibly being crowded out and how to not let it affect their game?
Those are conversations you always have with the goaltenders. I think when you’re a younger goaltender, it’s easy to actually put your energy into thinking about that stuff. The more experienced guys, the guys that really have that strong mental strength, they really don’t put any energy towards that, because at the end of the day, you can’t control it anyhow.
I keep telling my goaltenders, “Control what you can control.” You have a trade tomorrow that brought 2 new goaltenders into the organization and who knows what can happen. But the reality is, there’s nothing you can do to control that situation.
So the only thing that they can do is go out every day and work as hard as they can and play as good as they can. And if you start thinking about what can happen tomorrow and the different scenarios, then I think you lose that edge that you need to be an effective goalie.