By Dave Werstine
Long Beach Press Telegram
LONG BEACH, Calif. – Like most hockey players who come through Long Beach, Ice Dogs goaltender Chris Madden absolutely loves it -the weather, the beaches, the community.
“You can’t beat the weather when you walk out of the rink after practice each day,” said the native of Liverpool in upstate New York, where the winters are definitely cold. “It’s a great city from what I’ve seen so far.”
However, if he had his druthers, he’d be on the next plane out.
Long Beach, Madden hopes, is just a stopping off point for his career, a place to make the leap back up to the next level.
“It’s one thing I try not to think too much about,” said Madden, who has spent most of his five-year professional career in the AHL. “But in the back of your mind, for me, I want to get back to the American league, get back up.”
Madden, 25, a former Carolina Hurricanes fourth-round draft pick in 1998, is one of several affected by the NHL lockout. He had a great training camp in Rochester (AHL) and was one of the final players released. But he doesn’t want to dwell on what could have been or should be, but rather what is.
“It’s just the way the system is up top right now,” he said. “There’s a jam of players at every position. It’d be nice (if the NHL lockout would end), but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. Worst-case scenario is trying to have a great year here and see how successful we can be.
“You can’t sit around and worry about it everyday because it’ll eat you up too much. You have to worry about where you are, what you are doing right now.”
What Madden is doing right now is just about everything. In five starts, he is 4-1-0 and tied for the league lead in shutouts (2) and wins (4) while ranking second in saves (189) and save percentage (.969) and 189 saves and sixth in goals-against average (1.19).
Those gaudy stats should bring more than a little attention to NHL and AHL scouts. Ice Dogs coach Malcolm Cameron has certainly been astounded by what Madden has accomplished so far.
“What can I say?” Cameron said of Madden’s play. “He’s been there when we’ve needed him. This time of year, you always have breakdowns, mishandling of the puck and defensive zone errors, but he’s been there for us. He is very fundamentally sound, calm and poised in the net. It’s huge … to have a calming presence back there. The guys are confident with him, and that’s a good thing to have.”
“He’s been outstanding. I hope it’ll last, but I’m realistic.”
Cameron certainly has a good grasp on the fact that Madden, along with others on his team, could be called up at any second.
“That’s what we are here for,” Cameron said. “Chris is a good goaltender and he deserves a chance to get back up to the AHL. I’d love to help facilitate that for him.”
But losing a goalie of Madden’s quality?
“I’m not a selfish guy,” Cameron continued. “I’m not all about winning all the time. I would never hold anybody back. I’d play short-handed all year if I had to.”
The way that “Mad Dog,” who was an ECHL All-Star in his only full season in the league, with the Macon Whoopee back in 2001-02, has stormed onto the scene, it’d be hard to believe that he missed most of last season with a severe groin pull.
Madden played just eight games last year, seven with Toronto (AHL) before suffering the injury, which included a piece of the bone being pulled off his hip, in November. He worked the rest of the season and the offseason to get back into shape.
The hard work and the time off gave Madden, who believes the injury played role in keeping him out of the AHL this season, time to realize just how important hockey is to him. It’s been motivational.
“It was a long season, sitting around watching the guys play every night,” he said. “You can’t do anything about injuries, but it makes you appreciate (things more). I never had a long-term injury, a couple weeks here or there. It makes you value the game a lot more.”
That is one thing that led Cameron to recruit Madden.
“He was the top guy on my list,” Cameron said. “He is a good veteran guy coming off an injury-plagued season that feels he has something to prove.”
And so far, he has been proving himself, throwing a pair of zeroes on the scoreboard. But he isn’t about to take all the credit for the shutouts.
“You never get a shutout by yourself,” Madden said. “It goes to show how the team is playing in front of you. Guys are doing a good job of getting rid of second shots and eliminating chances.”
And if he keeps it up, the AHL has to come calling.
“If the call comes, great,” Madden said. “If not, I’m going to make the most out of playing in Long Beach.”