By Tim Leone
Of The Patriot-News
HERSHEY, Pa. – Goalie Bobby Goepfert has been waiting to start an AHL regular-season game for more than a year.
His opportunity is finally at hand.
“He’s going to play one game this week,” said Hershey Bears head coach Bob Woods, who coached Mississippi in the ECHL for four seasons from 2001-05 said. “Maybe in Albany [Friday], maybe Philly [Saturday]. We’ll play it by ear. He’s going to have to play.”
Goepfert, up from South Carolina (ECHL) while Simeon Varlamov continues to nurse a groin injury, has only appeared in exhibition games for the Bears and Stingrays in 2008-09.
“I want to get going,” Goepfert said. “I want to play something that counts. I’m excitedly nervous. I want to do my best.
“Pro life hasn’t been good to me so far. Get back on the horse. That’s what you’ve got to do.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins selected Goepfert in the sixth round (171st overall) of the 2002 NHL entry draft after two standout seasons for Cedar Rapids (USHL). Though he won 37 games for St. Cloud State from 2005-07, the Pens opted not to sign the 5-10, 170-pounder.
“The main thing that kind of hurt me was the people who drafted me, like Craig Patrick and those guys, they got let go,” Goepfert said. “They brought in a whole new bunch of people. I think it was a different philosophy.
“Supposedly, [new GM Ray Shero] didn’t like small goalies and stuff like that. I felt I had two pretty good years in St. Cloud. I felt I had a pretty good resume. It’s unfortunate they didn’t want me. It was kind of depressing for a bit.”
Goepfert, 25, got a camp shot with the Anaheim Ducks but was hampered by a groin injury. The Kings Park, N.Y., native spent 2007-08 with Augusta (ECHL), going 16-15-1 with a 2.60 goals-against average, and didn’t get a chance to play for the Portland Pirates, who were then affiliated with Anaheim.
This season, he’s been on the Hershey-South Carolina shuttle.
Goepfert attended Hershey’s training camp and got a win in relief against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in an exhibition game. He was reassigned to South Carolina and made a preseason trek to Alaska with the club, but he was recalled to Hershey when Varlamov aggravated a groin injury originally suffered during Washington Capitals camp.
“I feel myself getting better, getting used to the shots and the pace of the [AHL] game,” Goepfert said. “I’m ready to contribute. I want to help the team win.”
In Hershey, Goepfert has been reunited with St. Cloud teammate Andrew Gordon.
“He was a big leader for us on and off the ice,” Goepfert said. “I think my first memory was him walking in as a freshman. I was in my transfer year [from Providence College]. The first day in the training room, we kind of had a drill sergeant as an off-ice coach. Gordo, I think, used every weight in the weight room to do his benching and squatting and stuff. And he was a fresh-faced 18-year-old. It was kind of like, holy cow. He was just mature for his age.”
Goepfert had a rocky stint at Providence College from 2002-04 before transferring. He clashed with head coach Paul Pooley, who was replaced by Tim Army after the 2004-05 season.
“I acted out,” Goepfert said. “I didn’t go to class and stuff like that and really kind of rebelled. I really didn’t give them a choice. At the time, [Pooley] didn’t really give me a choice because I really wasn’t having fun playing hockey or going to school. It was just a bad situation for me.
“I wish I would have handled it differently. I’m sure they wished they would have handled it differently. It worked out for the best because St. Cloud was one of the best experiences I’ve had.”