By Scott Linesburgh
The Stockton Record
STOCKTON, Calif. – Parker Van Buskirk‘s approach to goaltending is as basic and simple as the shiny white helmet he wore in his first professional victory.
He doesn’t want to do anything fancy and isn’t trying to be the star. He plays the angles, makes the plays and lets his teammates do their job.
This style already worked once in the ECHL playoffs, and Stockton coach Matt Thomas announced he will be in the net again when the Thunder hosts the Ontario Reign at 4 p.m. on Sunday in the fifth game of the best-of-seven series.
The teams are tied at 2-2 going into the final series contest in Stockton.
Van Buskirk, who signed April 11 and reported to the team Monday, beat the Reign 5-4 in overtime on Friday.
“It’s been a crazy week,” Van Buskirk said. “I thought I was done for the season, and it was thrilling to get this opportunity and help us win.”
One of the first things fans noticed when Van Buskirk came out on the ice was his unpainted, plain white helmet. Most goalies get quite creative when decorating their helmets, but Van Buskirk borrowed this one from his junior team, the Kitchener (Ontario, Canada) Rangers. He also played two games this season with the Charlotte Checkers of the ECHL.
One fan remarked before Game 4 that if he won, the fans should decorate the helmet for him. Van Buskirk joked it already had a “snowstorm paint job,” and that was a good symbol for the way he plays.
“The biggest thing about being a goalie is that you want to be a calming influence on your team, and I was just trying to keep the guys relaxed with my actions,” Van Buskirk said. “So I guess the helmet is symbolic. White is calm and simple.”
Thomas said he was pleased with Van Buskirk’s performance, especially the end result. Van Buskirk had 29 saves against Ontario, but the Thunder did give up two short-handed goals in the final two minutes of regulation to force overtime.
“You don’t change the lineup when you win,” Thomas said. “I wanted to shake things up and went to (Van Buskirk). He knows he should have had the third goal (by Jon Rhealt), but the others were a combination of things.”
Pitton, 21, wanted to play, but he supported Van Buskirk and was one of the first players on the ice to congratulate the team after James Bates‘ game-winning goals.
“Of course you are disappointed, but the coach has to make his decision,” Pitton said. “The important thing is we win.”
Van Buskirk stated he was “handcuffed” by Rhealt’s shot and planned to learn from it so he can give his team a good chance to go up 3-2 in the series, which goes back to Ontario for Game 6 on Tuesday.
The Thunder is confident he can succeed.
“He played great, coming in like he did,” Bates said. “It’s up to all of us to deliver, no matter which goalie plays.”