By Marek Warszawski
The Fresno Bee
One is a grizzled veteran with an ECHL Most Valuable Player award on his résumé. The other is a precocious rookie with an impressive track record in Canada’s toughest junior league.
Just don’t ask who’s No. 1 and who’s No. 2.
Even Falcons coach Matt Thomas has yet to make that designation — and for good reason.
“There’s a good chance we’ll lose either one of them at some point,” said Thomas, discussing the possibility of Stirling or MacDonald getting called up from the ECHL to a higher league.
“That’s how good they are. That’s why I need two No. 1s.”
Two games into the 2006-07 season, both have made positive contributions.
Stirling started Friday’s opener against the Las Vegas Wranglers. After allowing two first-period goals, he stopped everything else as the Falcons eked out a 3-2 shootout victory.
MacDonald got the nod Sunday against the Wranglers, earning a 4-3 shootout victory after surrendering three goals in the final 6 minutes, 29 seconds of the third period.
Besides helping the Falcons (2-0-0) end a six-game losing streak to Las Vegas, the duo also reversed the team’s recent woes in deadlocked games. Fresno’s 14 overtime and shootout losses last season were the third most in the ECHL.
Stirling and MacDonald will continue splitting time for the Falcons, who begin a three-game road trip tonight against the Phoenix Roadrunners (2-1-0). Fresno plays at Phoenix again Saturday before visiting the Long Beach Ice Dogs (0-2-0) on Sunday.
“What we’ve seen out of our goaltending is that both guys are very capable,” Thomas said. “Even if they have a bad stretch, both are going to put it behind them and bounce back.”
Stirling, 29, is no stranger to the ups and downs of goaltending, having logged six seasons in three professional leagues. In 2003-04, while a member of the ECHL’s Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies, he was named league MVP after posting a 31-13-5 record and 1.91 goals against average.
Last season, Stirling split time between the ECHL’s Trenton Titans and the American Hockey League’s San Antonio Rampage. San Antonio’s league-worst 23-50-7 record and a familiarity with the Falcons’ coaching staff are the biggest reasons the Hull, Mass., native wound up in Fresno.
“At this point in my career I just want to get back to winning again,” said Stirling, who played under Thomas in Atlantic City and alongside Falcons assistant coach Ryan Mougenel and left wing Luke Curtin.
“We had some opportunities in the AHL that I didn’t think were in the best interest of my family and my career. This was a better fit.”
MacDonald spent the past four seasons in the Ontario Hockey League, Canada’s toughest junior circuit. He was a two-time OHL All-Star with a career record of 83-31-7.
Too old for junior hockey, the 21-year-old fielded numerous offers from ECHL teams and a couple from the AHL and United Hockey League before electing to sign with Fresno.
So how does the Chesley, Ontario, native like his first taste of California hockey?
Just fine, thanks.
“It’s kind of nice coming to the rink in shorts and sandals,” MacDonald said. “In Canada, I’d already have my winter boots on.”