Thursday, November 22, 2012

Here's what we did last night:

That's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, and Jordan Eberle, all playing on the same line for the Oklahoma City Barons. With the NHL lockout continuing, Edmonton sent down their "kid line" (they're 19, 21, and 22, respectively) to get some work in the high minors.

They got some work in, all right. They had a collective 7 points on 8 shots during the game, and it was unbelievable to see them on the power play together.

The Barons won, 6-4, and it was easily the most exciting regular season Stars game we've ever attended. We also saw at least a dozen kids from the hockey program, which was a nice bonus.

One of Eli's friends has a dad who is just unbelievable at obtaining autographs. I always kid him that if he had been at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, he would have a flag with the signatures of everyone who signed the document. He does it in an entirely genial way, though, because he is one of the nicest guys I've ever met. He just knows all about the players and their history, because he's basically a hockey encyclopedia.

We were talking to them before the game and he told Eli to walk up to the top row and ask an older gentlemen (about my age, really) if he was Don Maloney. Maloney played for the Rangers, had an excellent career as a player, and had also been General Manager of the Islanders as well as the current GM of the Phoenix Coyotes.

Eli walked up and had a brief conversation, then came back down and confirmed that it was, indeed, Don Maloney, who was in town to scout. Eli asked me if he could go back up and ask him to sign his jersey. "Be very polite," I said.

He came back all smiles. "I said 'Mr. Maloney, I'm sorry to interrupt your reading again, but would you please sign my jersey?' and he said, 'Sure, kid'." Mr. Maloney then asked him if he went to many games, and when Eli told him that he didn't because he played hockey himself, Maloney asked him what position. When he said goalie, Mr. Maloney said, "I should scout you!" and started laughing.

"If you had remembered, you could have said 'I had a .917 save percentage in my last tournament'," I said.

"Dang it!" Why didn't I think to do that!" he said.

So Don Maloney, like almost all hockey people, was incredibly gracious with his time, and it's not something that Eli will ever forget.

That .917 save percentage reference was a sneaky way to segue to his tournament in Dallas two weeks ago.

I would have written about it sooner, but it was remarkable in the sense that it was almost entirely unremarkable. He played two games in goal and was very strong in both, although he lost both games. In the first, he had 22 saves on 24 shots, and in the second, he had 31 saves on 34 shots.

A .900 save percentage is a general goal standard for a goalie, no matter his or her age. Eli's save percentage for the tournament was .917. In the NHL or the AHL, that would put you in the top half of the league.

What's particularly difficult for a young goalie is consistency. That's what's changed about Eli this season. He's just very, very quick and very technically correct, and he's almost never in a weak position on the ice. So he followed up those two games in the tournament with a house game (Bantam/Pee Wee mixed) where he had 24 saves on 25 shots, and the lone goal was on a deflection.

I talked to him on the way home from the game last night.

"So you watched both of those goalies," I said. "What do they do in a technical sense that you don't do?"

"Well," he said, "they're stronger and faster."

"Sure, because they're older," I said. "But I mean technically."

He thought for a little while.

"I don't want to sound braggy," he said, "but I don't think they do anything that I don't do."

"That's right," I said. "Think about that for a minute. It sounds impossible, but it's true: professional goalies aren't doing anything technically that you're not already doing. That's how good your training has been. And you play higher and more aggressively than either one of them."

"It's crazy, isn't it?" he said, laughing.

"I know," I said. "It does sound crazy. But it's true."

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