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Hockey playoffs are fickle but one thing remains constant: a hot goaltender can take you a long way.
In about three weeks the San Jose Barracuda will kick off postseason play, and the outlook is much different than last season. Although there was talent on the inaugural roster in 2015-16, dominant was not a word often associated with the Barracuda, and Calder Cup Championship hopes seemed like a long shot.
This season, San Jose punched the first postseason birth in the AHL and is arguably the most complete team in the League. The Barracuda went on a fourteen game winning streak and fifteen game point streak earlier this season, both AHL bests (of 2016-17). They have an All-Star goaltender, the top rookie in the league, and a pair of defensemen who rank in the top 10 in points among blueliners. For an entire month, the Barracuda held the best winning percentage in the AHL before being jumped by the East’s Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins on Sunday.
In short, San Jose has real hopes of making a run at the Calder Cup, and they will need a complete team effort to make that happen, but one player may be relied on more than others.
Goaltender Troy Grosenick will most likely be difference between San Jose going deep in the postseason or not.
“Anyone who goes far in the playoffs, their goaltender has to be a big part of it. You can look at the Sharks last year, I don’t think they get to the finals without Jones, he was that much of a factor in every game,” said Head Coach Roy Sommer. “From what we’ve seen from Grosey this season, he’s going to be the one we’re going to ride and take us to the promise land.”
Grosenick has been sensational in his fourth season as a pro. The former Union College Dutchman has gone 27-9-3 in 43 games played and ranks first in the AHL in Shutouts (9), second in goals-against average (2.08), T-second in save percentage (.927) and is T-second in wins. His performances night in and night out have given San Jose real hope he can do the same in the playoffs.
“He gives guys confidence to take a risk to keep a play alive, and that has translated into offensive zone confidence for players, knowing they can rely on Grosey even if they make a mistake,” Said Assistant Coach Ryan Mougenel. “Troy is the type of guy that you might give up eight or nine grade A chances and there’s a good chance he stops eight of the nine, he’s just been that good. His play gives everyone confidence.”
Only time will tell how far San Jose goes, but something can be said for where the Barracuda are right now and where Grosenick’s season has gone. After arguably his toughest campaign in 2015-16, going just 11-10-4 in 28 games played with a 3.16 goals-against average and a .894 save percentage, Grosenick has turned his career completely around, and it began long before September.
“He put the time in this summer, he did a tremendous job all offseason, but the biggest thing is his confidence, which has always been a big thing among goalies,” said Barracuda Goaltending Development Coach Evgeni Nabakov. “He’s got his confidence, and he adjusted his technique, and now he’s a completely different guy on and off the ice. The next challenge for Grosey is the playoffs. Can he play the same way, play with consistency? He has all the tools, and I think he’ll succeed just like he has all year long.”
Grosenick had a stretch in mid-November to mid-December in which he didn’t allow a goal for 248 minutes and eight seconds and recorded three-straight shutouts. His play has lifted the team to unprecedented heights all season long.
“The whole team plays with confidence when Grosey is in net. His compete level may be his greatest strength, and we all see the effort he plays with,” Said Barracuda Captain John McCarthy. “Every shot, rebound, and loose puck he challenges. Goaltending is a huge part of having playoff success, and I think the whole locker room is excited to see what we can accomplish with him behind us.”