There’ve been a few young goaltenders to backstop their clubs to Mastercard Memorial Cup berths in recent CHL memory, but none as young as Seattle Thunderbirds recently-turned 17-year-old rookie Carl Stankowski.
The 2000-born talent looks to follow in the footsteps of past 17-year-old Mastercard Memorial Cup goaltending champions in Zach Fucale (Halifax Mooseheads, 2013), who was 17 when the 2013 tournament began and Fred Brathwaite (Oshawa Generals, 1990), who starred in a relief appearance for Oshawa in the 1990 Championship game.
Limited to just seven regular season games before going down with a hip injury, the Calgary native returned late in the season before taking over for an injured Rylan Toth in the Seattle crease and backstopped the T-Birds to their first WHL Championship title in franchise history.
At just 5-foot-9 and 160Ibs., Stankowski’s athletic style and quick lateral movement brought fans out of their seats throughout the WHL Playoffs as he posted a 16-2-2 record with a 2.50 goals-against average, .911 save percentage and entered play at the Mastercard Memorial Cup as the reigning Vaughn CHL Goaltender of the Week.
“I have a quote I like to keep in my head,” said the quiet, but confident young netminder. “One puck at a time. I don’t really focus on the full game, I’m just looking ahead to the next shot to come my way.”
Stankowski, who models his game after 5-foot-11 Nashville Predators goaltender Juuse Saros and another mentor in WHL graduate Eric Comrie of the AHL’s Manitoba Moose, doesn’t get too hung up on size.
“For me it’s pretty simple. If a goalie can stop a puck, he can stop a puck. There’s a number of small guys in the NHL now so it’s not impossible to make it.”
Older teammates have taken notice and shown appreciation for Stankowski’s contributions.
“Carl is such a great kid,” said T-Birds co-captain Scott Eansor. “I just love everything about him. He’s a typical goaltender, is pretty quiet and has his own routine, but he’s been really stellar for us and we’ve been fortunate that he has played as well as he has.”
Eansor, who joins Mathew Barzal, Ethan Bear, Keegan Kolesar and Ryan Gropp in forming the club’s veteran core, says the winning culture in Seattle has come as a result of intentional changes made to the way players interact with one another.
“There’s no cliques, nothing like that,” Eansor said. “You’ll catch 20-year-olds hanging out with 16-year-olds and its made the experience a lot different than it was when I got here. It helps guys like Carl and our younger players to feel comfortable and not feel like they have to hold themselves back.”
Stankowski turned aside 31 shots in Seattle’s 4-2 loss to the OHL champion Erie Otters on Saturday, turning heads with a number of big saves including a point blank robbery of OHL scoring leader Alex DeBrincat in the opening period.
“For a 2000 he’s something special,” said Otters captain Dylan Strome after Saturday’s game. “He made a great save on probably the best goal-scorer in the CHL in the slot there. I had a couple chances in the first period where he stopped me too. He’s quick, and teams are going to find that out pretty fast.”
Stankowski’s goes up against his Team Canada Red World Under-17 Hockey Challenge head coach Rocky Thompson and the host Windsor Spitfires tonight when the puck drops at 7:00pm ET/4:00pm PT on Sportsnet East, Ontario, West, Pacific, TVA Sports, NHL Network U.S and streaming online at CHLLive.com.