'A pretty crazy last couple of years': Hawks goalie Stalock on road to recovery again
Alex Stalock's journey to where he is as a Chicago Blackhawk is almost as crazy as his style of play as a goaltender.
In his season debut, Stalock showed off his aggressive approach in net by playing the puck in delicate situations, coming out of the crease to stop pucks, and just stacking the pads and showing off his glove in any situation possible. He stopped 36 shots and allowed the only goal of the game. Stalock says he's a smaller guy, so he has to use his body in a way that's effective for him, so if it makes some fans a little nervous, they're just going to have to get used to it.
"Yeah, I mean you gotta go all out in the NHL, right?" he said after the game. "It's the best league in the world. I can't show up and give it half effort, that's for sure."
He especially wasn't going to give it half effort after the long road back to recovery from injury that kept him sidelined for the entire 2020-21 season. And when he comes back from his current ailment -- a concussion he sustained Nov. 1 against the Islanders -- Blackhawks fans should expect the same kind of energy.
The 35-year-old goalie started his career in San Jose with the Sharks, where he spent his first five seasons in the NHL before moving to Minnesota and joining the Wild. He was waived by the Wild in March of 2021 and was picked up by the Oilers but, unfortunately, never saw the ice.
After testing positive for COVID-19, it was revealed that Stalock was diagnosed with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle. He missed the whole season rehabbing and was traded back to the Sharks at the end of the next season. Similar to the Oilers, before getting in the crease just once with the team, he was dealt to the Hawks.
"It's been a pretty crazy last couple of years with everything," he said after the Vegas game, "not only just going on in the world but health-wise and to be out there again, standing in an NHL rink, obviously a meaningful game. It was quite an honor. It's exciting, and (it) wasn't an easy road to get back. I had a fun night."
Fast-forward a couple of games, Stalock ends up having a less-fun night against the Islanders.
Early in the first period, New York center Casey Cizikas charged to the net and leveled Stalock, leaving Cizikas with an ejection from the game and a fine from the NHL and Stalock with a concussion, one that he has dealt with for well over a month now.
"It's hard to see that side of things because he's one of those guys that brings a lot of energy in practice and in the locker room," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "He's one of those high-energy guys. You have those guys over the years where you kind of hear them coming from a mile away, but he's always having fun and he's always keeping things light, so it's good to see him."
So, he acts exactly how you might think he does if you only watch him play hockey: loud.
Still, with an injury like a concussion, it might appear that he's doing all right, but it's been a long, hard road back to full health.
"It's been a few times now where you feel like you're ready to give it a try and then, next day, you wake up and it's not even close to what it was," he said after practice one day. "I was warned earlier that you're gonna have setbacks, but you never feel like it's gonna happen, and sure enough, it happens a few times and it's not fun to deal with something like that mentally."
And for a goalie, dealing with any concussion is just a scary thing to come back from.
"That's the thing I'm talking about with our training staff," he said, "getting comfortable just seeing a shot again. You want to be able to react and feel comfortable when the puck's coming in at a high rate of speed, and you don't want to be pulling back on a puck. It's not expecting it to hit you in the head, but, to come back, you're gonna get hit in the head again, and I think it's getting over that."
He's dealt with a lot in the past several years, but Stalock has proved that he can still come back, and even as an older player in the league, he can still compete at the highest level. In his seven appearances with the Blackhawks this season, he has recorded a 2.93 goals against average, which is the best out of the three goalies the team has utilized.
In the end, the Blackhawks really miss him, on and off the ice.
"We miss him because he played really well for us," head coach Luke Richardson said, "but just verbally in the dressing room he's a leader and a character, and the guys really gravitate when he's around. So we're missing that."