CALGARY — On this night there were no tears of joy and no family members to embrace.
Yet, you best believe the feel-good story of the Calgary Flames‘ 2019 draft was relieved his debut in red and gold ended triumphantly.
Two-and-a-half months after weeping in his mother’s arms after being the fourth-last pick — 214th overall — of the NHL Entry Draft in Vancouver, Dustin Wolf played it cool after getting his first chance to start proving the hockey world wrong.
Okay, it was a prospects game. No big deal in the grand scheme of things, but a proud night for a kid who was almost perfect in his debut.
“It’s only a rookie game, but you just want to get the first one under your belt,” said the 18-year-old goaltender following a 3-1 win over the Oilers’ hopefuls at the Saddledome.
“You want a little more shots, but whatever it takes to win is what you are trying to do. For me, it’s just another hockey game. It’s good the way it came out. Unfortunate there was one bad bounce there, but I thought I played pretty well.”
Wolf led the Western Hockey League in his first full year as a starter last season with a sparkling .936 save percentage, not to mention a 1.69 goals-against average and 41-15-2 record one might think would have prompted an NHL squad to pluck him earlier than the seventh round.
If not for a frame generously listed at six-feet tall, the 165-pound teen would most certainly have gone sooner.
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Alas, like so many undersized forwards making their way in today’s NHL, the onus is on him to prove he can overcome the stigma of being well under the NHL goalie standard of roughly six-foot-three or more.
“Yeah, obviously teams want six-foot-three goalies now, so you’re trying to be as positionally sound as you can, and you’ve got to make up for your height with being athletic and being able to sprawl across the net to make saves you probably shouldn’t,” said the Everett Silvertips star, a California native who could very well backstop the U.S. at the World Juniors this Christmas.
“I’ve been watching (five-foot-11 Nashville backup) Juuse Saros the last few years and he’s a testament to the fact it’s not how tall you are as long as you do your job. Being a shorter guy I try to replicate what he does and how he goes about his business.”
Wolf didn’t have a whole lot of business to tend to Tuesday in front of a surprisingly healthy Saddledome crowd that paid $5 to charity to watch the Oilers and Flames prospects clash.
All told he faced just 19 shots in a game won 3-1 by a Flames squad powered by goals from Glenn Gawdin, Adam Ruzicka and an empty-netter from Matthew Phillips. The Oilers only goal came early in the third when Evan Bouchard’s seeing-eye shot from the point eluded Wolf after being deflected in front.
None of Wolf’s saves were of the spectacular variety, attesting to his positioning, which Stockton bench boss Cail MacLean had praised earlier in the day.
“Technically he’s pretty strong — he’s very good positionally,” said MacLean, who has overseen the Flames prospects camp.
“His size doesn’t overwhelm you but when you watch him play there’s not a lot of room for shooters. From a player’s perspective that can be frustrating because you feel there should be some room there. He understands the game and the geometry of it and he’s very good at being efficient at getting to the right spot and taking those angles away.”
Sitting seventh or so on the Flames’ goalie depth chart, Wolf is clearly destined to return within a week to Everett, where the CHL’s Scholastic Player of the Year has been a brilliant replacement for Flyers hotshot Carter Hart.
Between now and then the youngster is intent on soaking up a big-league experience that hasn’t been marred by the incredible jump in intensity, skill and speed from the WHL.
“I talked to (Flames starter David) Rittich a bit,” he smiled.
“I’ve been able to hang out with (Stockton goalie Tyler) Parsons and been rooming with Nick Schneider. It’s pretty amazing being in a facility like this and around everything that is going on. You step into the locker room and it’s first class — it’s a lot different than junior hockey.
Everything is professional. Hopefully in a couple years I’ll be back up here.”
NOTES: The Flames outshot the Oilers 43-19 to win the second of two prospects games against the Oilers … Phillips also scored Calgary’s only goal in their 1-0 win Saturday in Red Deer … The most dangerous line on the ice all night was Phillips, Gawdin and Jakob Pelletier, the Flames’ first-round pick this summer … Gawdin’s goal came 36 seconds into the evening on the first shot of the game on Oilers starter Olivier Rodrigue … Flames main camp opens Thursday with physicals.