When the Condors opened American Hockey League play back in October, the goaltending net belonged to veteran Al Montoya.
Fast forward three months and the net now belongs to rookie netminders, with Shane Starrett, a second-year pro in his first AHL season, at the top of the heap.
Montoya struggled in the first two months of the season, going 5-6-0 with a goals-against average of 3.09 and a save percentage of .895. His last game was on Nov. 29 and he has been out since mid-December with an illness and is not currently practicing.
That opened the door for Starrett who made the most of his opportunity. He is 7-3-3 with a 2.58 goals against average and .911 save percentage.
“He’s had a very, very good year for us and recently he’s turned into some really good performances,” Condors coach Jay Woodcroft said.
Which is what Starrett wanted to do this season.
“When I went into training camp (in September) with Edmonton I wanted to be one of the top goalies there and open some eyes and that’s what I wanted to do here,” Starrett, 24, said. “I’m working to be one of the top goalies here and hopefully make it to the next level. That’s what we’re all doing here, trying to get to the next level.”
Standing at 6-foot-5, 195 pounds, Starrett played two years collegiately at the Air Force Academy before opting to sign an entry-level contract with the Oilers. He spent the bulk of last season in the ECHL with the Wichita Thunder, earning a bid to the All-Star game. He had a .912 save percentage in the regular season and .915 in six playoff games. He also got a taste of AHL action in three games with Bakersfield.
“I used it as a learning experience, a way to acclimate myself to pro hockey,” Starrett said of his season in the ECHL. “Coming from a college, we don’t have as long a season as the guys that come from juniors. We only have maybe 35 games in a season for college so getting used to a long season was one of the biggest adjustments.”
Condors goaltender coach Sylvain Rodrigue said the longer pro schedule was tough on Starrett, who got a bit worn down last season.
“Last January was a bit tougher for him so we just came back to basics and tried to rebuild his confidence and he finished the season really strong down there,” Rodrigue said. “This year up here, so far so good.”
Starrett said the jump from the ECHL to the AHL is just a progression — faster with more skilled players who capitalize on mistakes — and that Rodrigue has been a big boost in his development.
“It’s been a real game changer to help with my game,” he said of working with Rodrigue on a daily basis. “We’re on early and out late (at practice) every day. It’s real nice to get one-on-one work with him every day.
“Last year he was only (in Wichita) for one month. He’s really helped my game improve.”
Woodcroft said Starrett is not only good on the ice, but in the dressing room as well.
“What I like about Shane is he’s a great teammate,” Woodcroft said. “And because he’s a great teammate the team plays hard for him. He gives us a chance to win every night. I love his attitude, I love his work ethic.”
Rodrigue said Starrett’s work ethic and willingness to learn is a plus.
“We’re working technically to improve his game, about the details,” Rodrigue said. “ECHL to AHL the game is a little bit more detailed, but it’s even more detailed reaching the NHL and this is what you have to work on.
“He’s working hard. He is a very good student. When the players are like that and very committed to their game, usually they have success.”