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Goalie hoping to get call of the Wild

Dogfight in Minny to be Dubnyk's backup

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Iowa Wild goaltender Alex Stalock battles for a loose puck with Manitoba Moose forward Dan DeSalvo during AHL action in Winnipeg, last season. Stalock is hoping to make the jump from the Minnesota Wild's farm team to the big club as a backup for defacto starter Devan Dubnyk.</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Iowa Wild goaltender Alex Stalock battles for a loose puck with Manitoba Moose forward Dan DeSalvo during AHL action in Winnipeg, last season. Stalock is hoping to make the jump from the Minnesota Wild's farm team to the big club as a backup for defacto starter Devan Dubnyk.

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Alex Stalock really believes there’s no place like home.

The 30-year-old goaltender, who got the start Thursday night here against the Winnipeg Jets, is in a dogfight with Steve Michalek and Niklas Svedberg to earn the coveted role as Devan Dubnyk’s backup with the Minnesota Wild.

Inconsistent understudy Darcy Kuemper is out of the picture after inking a one-year deal with the L.A. Kings on July 1, so there’s an opening.

After bouncing around the NHL and the American Hockey League for the better part of a decade since he wrapped up his college career in Duluth, Minn., Stalock signed a two-year contract extension with the Wild in February.

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ST. PAUL, Minn. – Alex Stalock really believes there’s no place like home.

The 30-year-old goaltender, who got the start Thursday night here against the Winnipeg Jets, is in a dogfight with Steve Michalek and Niklas Svedberg to earn the coveted role as Devan Dubnyk’s backup with the Minnesota Wild.

Inconsistent understudy Darcy Kuemper is out of the picture after inking a one-year deal with the L.A. Kings on July 1, so there’s an opening.

After bouncing around the NHL and the American Hockey League for the better part of a decade since he wrapped up his college career in Duluth, Minn., Stalock signed a two-year contract extension with the Wild in February.

He played much of last season with the club’s AHL affiliate, the Iowa Wild, but was promoted in late March and started a pair of games, including a 5-1 triumph over the Ottawa Senators in front of nearly 19,100 fans at Xcel Energy Center in downtown St. Paul.

The rink is just a 15-minute drive from the home in which he was raised.

"It’s pretty exciting," Stalock, a product of South St. Paul (which is actually its own city – population 20,000), said Thursday. "In the past, I’ve been able to play here a couple of times when I was with the Sharks and, obviously, last year with the Wild when I got to put on the home uniform. Any time at home, man, it’s fun. With all the family and friends here, it’s really cool. I know there’s a lot of kids from the state dreaming they can do it, so to get the chance is nothing I will ever take for granted."

Stalock, originally drafted by San Jose in the fourth round (112th overall) of the 2005 NHL Draft, maintains he’s feeling more comfortable now than at any other time since he began getting paid to play hockey, and he’s been doing all things necessary to make this a permanent gig.

The 6-0, 190-pound former standout with the University of Minnesota (Duluth) started taking care of business early in the summer, redefining his physical frame.

"Off the ice, I put on almost 10 pounds of muscle and my body fat moved down. I wanted to come in ready to go from Day 1. I’m doing everything possible to make this team," said Stalock, who worked with a trainer to add the bulk without diminishing his quickness.

"I’m not 6-4. I can’t play a game where I just sit back and block. I try to be efficient but at the same time I have to be athletic," he said. "I’m going to use more energy than a lot of guys. I can’t stay back. I have to come out and be aggressive. I wanna be explosive, get to the back-door plays and be quick onto pucks."

Stalock has appeared in 64 NHL contests with the Sharks and Wild since the 2010-11 NHL season, posting a 25-20-7 record. He also faced shooters in minor-league towns like Worcester, Mass., Stockton, Calif., Peoria, Ill., and Des Moines, Iowa.

He's won a couple of game against the Manitoba Moose in Winnipeg as well.

It hasn’t been an easy ride but he considers himself blessed to still play the game he loves. Six years ago, just days after chalking up his first-ever NHL victory as a member of the Sharks, a freak injury nearly ended it all. While playing in Worcester, he suffered a severe cut to the back of his left leg when he was stepped on during a mad scramble for a loose puck in the crease. Surgeries were required to repair his hamstring tendon and reconnect mangled nerves.

During months of rehab, he had plenty of time to reflect on a possible life without hockey.

"It really makes you sit back and look at the big picture," he said. "It really was a question mark. No one had really had that kind of nerve damage to that part of their body before. It was a waiting game. Thank gosh I was young and pretty optimistic that I’d come back."

Eleven months later, he returned to action with Stockton of the East Coast Hockey League, spent most of the 2012-13 season in Worcester and finally cracked the Sharks roster full time. He played behind Antti Niemi for a pair of seasons before being dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Now, he’s found his way home, but there are no guarantees. Svedberg and Michalek were rock-solid in Minnesota’s 3-2 shootout win over Winnipeg on Monday night. Michalek blanked the Jets on all 19 shots he faced in the third period and overtime, while denying Blake Wheeler, Mark Schiefele and Patrik Laine during the shootout.

"I think that would have probably opened up Alex’s eyes, like ‘Wow, I better play good, too. It’s just not given to me,’" said Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau "I think he’s been good. He works really hard and he’s come in well prepared, all of those good things that you wanna see in a goalie. He plays with energy and he gives our guys a lot of help.

"I think he’s excited about maybe playing at home."

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Read more by Jason Bell.

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