By Dave Werstine
Copyright (c) Long Beach Press Telegram
LONG BEACH, Calif. – There was bound to be several casualties from last season’s NHL lockout, midlevel players who would find it difficult to find a job. The economics of today’s NHL emphasizes youth over experience, and for that reason goaltender Steve Shields has been working out with the Ice Dogs.
“The thing that hurts is that lots of teams have went with younger guys,” said the 33-year-old Shields, a veteran of eight-plus NHL campaigns who played in the ECHL with South Carolina in his first professional season in 1994-95. “There are eight or nine (rookie goalies) in the league this year. Normally, there are not that many young guys.”
But as the NHL season wears on, there will undoubtedly be injuries, young goalies who aren’t yet up to the task, and teams flat out looking to improve. When that happens, Shields wants to be ready, and that’s why he is in Long Beach going through training camp with the Ice Dogs.
Shields, who also played for the Buffalo Sabres, San Jose Sharks, Boston Bruins and most recently with the Florida Panthers and is 79-102-39 with a 2.64 GAA over his pro career, is not on the Ice Dogs’ training camp roster and isn’t a candidate to make the team.
But with Montreal Canadiens prospect Jaroslav Halak tied up in immigration paperwork and just one goalie, expected No. 1 Greg Hewitt, in camp, the addition of Shields has be invaluable to the Ice Dogs.
“It’s always a nice challenge to have an NHL goalie out there,” Ice Dogs coach Malcolm Cameron said. “It’s more of a challenge than having a position player on the ice, because they tend to blend in more. But with a goalie, you get to shoot, deke and it’s more of a challenge. It’s been great.” Shields, who lives in L.A., is thankful for the chance to take some of the rust off his game after not playing during last year’s lockout.
“I appreciate the opportunity to come out here,” said Shields, who videotapes his workouts so he can critique them later. “I think it works out good for everyone.”
But what he really hopes works out is getting a deal with an NHL team.
“I’m going to end up somewhere in the next little while. I just want to be prepared,” Shields said of why he is practicing with the Ice Dogs. “I’ve talked to a lot of teams, but there really hasn’t been an opportunity that I want. I want to be somewhere there is an opportunity to play. Teams are going to need help sooner or later.
“I’m going to make a decision in the next couple of weeks. If an NHL deal doesn’t come right away, I’m probably leaning toward the AHL or going overseas. You really can’t get in game shape here.”
But Shields thinks it was a good starting-out place.
“They have some pretty talented guys,” he said of the Ice Dogs. “Nowadays, everyone can shoot the puck. Good shots are good shots, no matter the level. There’s not much difference in the levels it’s just a little slower than the NHL.”