By Andy Kent
Naples Daily News
ESTERO, Fla. – Two quality goaltenders — one a rookie and the other with significant professional experience under his belt — proved to be part of a successful formula for the Florida Everblades during their best season in team history.
Seven years later, head coach Gerry Fleming is hoping a similar tandem will yield even better results, perhaps even bringing Florida its first ever championship.
David Shantz, a 20-year-old rookie under contract to the NHL’s Florida Panthers, has stormed out of the gate three weeks into the 2006-07 ECHL season to put himself among the elite goaltenders in the league. But he is not yet the clear-cut No. 1 goalie for the Everblades because Craig Kowalski still has a say.
Kowalski, 25, is in his third professional season and got to taste what it’s like to hoist the Stanley Cup last June as the emergency third goaltender for the Carolina Hurricanes. After a shaky start in his first two games this season, he has come on strong in his last two outings and forced Fleming to stick with a rotational system.
“They’re competitive, they both want to play and they both want to play a lot,” said Fleming, whose team had won four of five games due in most part to solid play between the pipes. “They both want to push each other, and whether that’s one of the reasons for their success, I think they both push each other and that’s always a good thing.”
During the 1999-2000 season — Florida’s second in the league, rookie Jeff Maund and third-year pro Marc Magliarditi, both 23-year-olds, formed what ended up being the best 1-2 punch in the ECHL.
The Everblades went 53-15-2, winning the Brabham Cup for compiling the most points in the league.
But before the duo could pick things up a notch in the Kelly Cup Playoffs, Maund, who was 26-6-1 in the regular season, went down with a knee injury in the second period of the first playoff game against the Augusta Lynx.
Magliarditi (22-9-0) had been up in the International Hockey League with the Cincinnati Cyclones for about a month and had just been sent down that day. The Blades ended up getting eliminated by Augusta in five games.
Prior to Saturday night’s game against Columbia at Germain Arena, which Kowalski started, Shantz was 4-1-0 with a 2.20 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage, ranking ninth in the league in GAA and 12th in save percentage. Kowalski was 2-2-0 with a 2.51 GAA (13th) and a .925 save percentage (9th).
“It’s coming along. He’s a couple of years younger than me so we don’t hang out a ton, but having this early road trip (through Ohio last week) was good because everybody got to know each other better,” Kowalski said. “He was involved a lot more than he has been, which was good to see, as he mixed in with the older guys and not the younger guys all the time. But it’s the same every year and every place you play, if you don’t want to play every game then you shouldn’t be playing.”
Shantz has the added benefit of being less than two hours away from where the Panthers play and practice, so members of the Panthers coaching staff and management have been able to see him play in person. This weekend, Shantz got to work one-on-one with Panthers goalie coach Phil Myre.
On the surface, Shantz is quiet and soft-spoken, and he takes that same persona onto the ice with him, never looking rattled in net. He said he views his relationship with Kowalski as less of a rivalry than when he was competing with other Panthers goalies since they are part of two different hockey organizations.
“I haven’t really talked a lot of technical stuff with him but I think I’ll try to make it a point in the future to maybe pick his brain and get some pointers,” said Shantz, who was the Panthers’ second-round draft pick (37th overall) in 2004. “It’s always a good thing when you’re able to push the other guy and the other guy can push you in return, and I think it will only help both of us in the long run. At the end of the day it comes down to if the team wins and everyone is playing well, that’s all that matters.”
As far as specifically how they help each other from game to game, Kowalski explained the importance. Whichever goalie is on the bench at the time needs to pay attention to some of the other team’s tendencies, especially if it’s going to be back-to-back games between the same two teams.
“Say I’m on the bench on a Friday for the first game and I see something, I can tell (Shantz) in between periods to look for this or they’re going here or there, something he doesn’t see because he’s focused on the puck,” Kowalski said. “That’s just one thing to help your teammate out and help him make that save that maybe saves us a game and gets us two points as opposed to losing the game or going into overtime and losing that point.”
As tight as the South Division will be this season, every point is crucial, which is why Shantz and Kowalski’s roles will continue to be vital.