Photo Courtesy Claus Anderson/Getty Images
By MIKE ASHMORE
Special to ECHL.com
It seems to be only a matter of time for Brad Thiessen.
The 24 year old Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins goaltender has put together a season for the ages for Pittsburgh’s top affiliate, having posted a 28-7-1 record, 1.94 goals against average and .922 save percentage in his first 38 games.
Thiessen’s come a long way from his standout collegiate career at Northeastern University, where he was named a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award during his final season in 2008-09. Thiessen signed with the Penguins following that standout junior campaign, and after attending NHL camp in Pittsburgh prior to the start of the following season, began 2009-10 in Wilkes-Barre Scranton. But seemingly stuck behind another ECHL graduate, John Curry, Thiessen wasn’t getting enough playing time to develop his game, and was eventually sent down to the Wheeling Nailers. Considering where he’d been prior to the start of the season, the assignment was initially a little difficult to take.
"You feel like you’re a long way off, going from being in training camp in Pittsburgh, going down to Wilkes-Barre and then going down again to Wheeling," said Thiessen in a phone interview.
"It’s a couple steps down, and I was a little discouraged I guess. But it’s all part of the process of trying to get back up there. I was in Wilkes-Barre for a couple of months, and I was backing up there and not playing a whole lot. The idea was to go down to Wheeling and get in some more games so I could just kind of get my game back going again."
And Thiessen did just that, appearing in 12 games for the Nailers and winning eight of his 11 decisions. He posted a 2.67 goals against average and .914 save percentage, and eventually re-joined the Penguins for their stretch run in the AHL.
"The ECHL is a good league, it’s definitely not easy," said Thiessen of his stay with Wheeling.
"It was difficult with the travel and some of the long trips that you’re on and whatnot. It was a challenge being there, but it helped me by getting some games in and just getting back playing again."
This season, Thiessen has made a strong push for a promotion with his numbers, but is stuck behind veterans Marc-Andre Fleury and Brent Johnson, all while still competing with Curry for the call-up should a reason arise. But despite having arguably played his way out of the AHL, Thiessen is taking a positive approach to playing there for an entire season.
"I think it’s just part of the process," he said.
"Playing and getting a chance to play more at the AHL level and playing on a good team is a good experience for me, just being here the whole year and being on a competitive team and playing. I think it’s good for me and my development."
Thiessen, who was named the Eastern Conference’s starting goalie for the 2011 AHL All-Star Game and the league’s Goalie of the Month for the month of February, has earned the majority of the time between the pipes for Wilkes-Barre Scranton this season, and is enjoying his time there on the ice and in the room.
"We have a good group of guys here, we made some good signings in the offseason for guys who’ve come and helped us out," Thiessen said.
"I think it has a lot to do with how we finished out year last season in Wilkes-Barre. There were a lot of rookies and young guys who maybe hadn’t played pro hockey before, and we kind of went through a groove the last half of that year and kind of gained some confidence going into this year, and I think that helped us out a lot. We all knew what to expect going into, and I think we’ve kept that going from there."
Only Curtis Sanford, who also used the ECHL as a springboard to play in the NHL, has a better goals against average in the AHL this season than Thiessen. But Thiessen has stayed humble despite all of his success.
"I think there’s always things to work on as a goalie," he told ECHL.com.
"Things like rebound control, and trying to fight through traffic. Guys are bigger here and really good in front of the net, and that’s a big area where a lot of goals are scored, right in front of the crease. I’m trying to improve my game battling through traffic and trying to compete and battle for pucks, those are big things. And just maintaining consistency throughout the year and not going through extended periods of time where you’re not playing as well or whatnot, just trying to make sure you’re on your game every night."