By MIKE ASHMORE
Special to ECHL.com
PHILADELPHIA – Oh, what a difference a year makes. Coming out of the 2011-12 season, all New York Rangers rookie goaltender Cam Talbot was looking to do was establish himself as a starter in the American Hockey League.
He’d just spent the year as the Connecticut Whale’s number two goalie, backing up Chad Johnson, and the National Hockey League was the furthest thing from his mind. Now, after appearing in a career-high 55 games for the Whale last season, the former Greenville Road Warriors netminder is on the precipice of earning a job at the game’s highest level.
“Last season, coming in, I’d never been an established number one in the AHL, so I think last season might have been a bit of a stretch,” Talbot told ECHL.com after a recent preseason contest.
“But after a full season under my belt as a starter in the ‘A,’ I feel like I’ve progressed a lot and improved a lot, and I’m just happy for the opportunity that they’re giving me. I’m just going to try to make the best of it.” For the 26-year-old, the time to make an impression is now. Talbot joined the Rangers organization at the tail end of the 2009-10 season after playing three seasons of college hockey at the University of Alabama-Huntsville. Entering his fourth full season with New York, he’s been patiently waiting his turn, and posted a 2.63 goals against average and .918 save percentage to go along with a career-high 25 wins last year to help put him in the position for an opportunity like the one he’s receiving.
That opportunity, to be specific, is to be in contention for the backup job to all-world goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Fellow ECHL alum Johan Hedberg was released out of his PTO today, but Talbot was fighting with him and ex-Stingrays stopper Martin Biron to claim the number two spot.
“When you’ve got two established guys like that fighting for the goal as well, you’re always a little surprised when your name gets thrown in with the likes of them. But to be honest, this is what I’ve been working towards, and I was hoping I’d get a chance like that. I’m just going to try to make the best of it.” While it’s been difficult for Talbot — who has dressed in the NHL but yet to get in a game – to bide his time, there have been benefits to being patient.
“You can learn so much,” he said. “Just in the past three years, watching Hank and Marty and the way they carry themselves on and off the ice, it’s huge for me as a young goalie coming up from college and never having been to an NHL camp before. So to learn from the best goalie in the world and a guy who’s been around for a while, it’s a great experience for me.”
Talbot has appeared in each of the Rangers first two preseason games, stopping 21 of the 24 shots he’s faced. He collected the win last night in New York’s 3-2 win over Philadelphia at the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday.