|Alex Lyon will need to lead Lehigh Valley in net in the postseason. Photo: Nina Weiss/Highland Park Hockey|
Written by: Tony Androckitis - Twitter/Facebook
Alex Lyon has been a regular interview here lately in previous weeks, and now with Anthony Stolarz's unfortunate season-ending injury and Lyon becoming the Phantoms' clear number one goaltender for the playoffs, it's likely not going to change.
Goaltenders in hockey are always in the hot seat like a quarterback in football, a pitcher in baseball. It comes with the territory of the position. At least, that's how former-goalie himself and current Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon sees it.
It's hard to argue the point.
In the playoffs especially, getting a timely save or a big save from the man between the pipes can be a real difference maker in a game and over the course of a playoff series or playoff run entirely.
"No team wins a championship without great goaltending," Gordon said after Tuesday's practice, exlaining that while a team can play well defensively in front of him that it's ultimately up to the goaltender to stop the shots coming his way.
Enter Alex Lyon, who has said his thoughts on his first season of pro hockey focus more on his body of work and progress he's made over the course of the entire season versus any particular strong or not to strong performance in a game or stretch of games.
"I had really high expectations like anybody coming out of college. I also learned throughout the year how quickly things can change - especially with Mason and Neuvirth and Stolie this year," Lyon told both Highland Park Hockey and the Morning Call after Tuesday's practice. "It's been a roller coaster of emotion. I'm not surprised, I'm learning to get better to take things in stride."
Lyon used to spotlight and being the go-to goalie
Lyon's not unfamiliar being the primary starter - explaining that from a young age he was the only goaltender on his team and that progressed to him being the starter in juniors and then shortly after starting his time at the University of Yale becoming the main starter in college.
He's also not new to high-pressure situations. After all, he saw many 3-game and 1-game playoff scenarios while in college at Yale.
"So in college - especially in the NCAA tournament - it's one and done so it's so much pressure on every single game. It's like, whew." Lyon said, referencing the body of work versus inconsistent stretches of high and low play.
He recalled the Yale-Harvard series as one particularly epic playoff battle - with all three games going to overtime including the decisive Game 3 going to double overtime. For those unaware, then-Harvard forward Jimmy Vesey (now a member of the New York Rangers) beat Lyon with a shot late in the second overtime to lift Harvard past Yale to advance the Crimson to the ECAC Semifinals in 2015.
Lyon's fortunes vs. Stolarz's fortunes leave mixed emotions
The Phantoms' rookie goaltender is fully aware that he's the team's starter in net, and while he said that it's humbling to play for a good team and be in a position to change the culture of the Phantoms and turn it into an annual contender while he's in the AHL it's also not something he isn't used to.
"It's pretty humbling. I'm a starting goalie in the AHL for a great playoff team that has a chance to do some damage," Lyon said. "I think it's settling in a little bit. As you go through the week, you have the same preparations and that kind of keeps you in the groove, but it's pretty cool. Everyone around here is excited."
At the same time, Lyon's opportunity was the result of an unfortunate injury to Stolarz - Lyon's teammate and competitor on the ice, but roommate and good friend off the ice. It was a situation of mixed emotions.
"It's totally.. yeah, there's no better word for it. Totally somber," Lyon said of Stolarz's injury and the situation that led to him being the clear cut starter for the playoffs. "I had people texting me 'oh huge opportunity for you nice job'. I'm with this guy every day, he's one of my best friends. The other sad part about that, you see a guy like that go down and you realize holy smokes that could happen to anybody."
"Even yesterday his family was up getting his stuff and they said, we're really looking forward to the playoffs so there's a lot that goes into it. You can't just objectively look at it and just say good opportunity now. He's worked hard this year and had a good year as well. Hopefully, the team can lift him up. If we make a run, or do some damage he's just as much a part of it as anybody. Yeah, try to lift him up as best we can."
Lyon has come a long way since the beginning of the season. When erroneously asked about allowing nine goals in his first two starts, he calmly corrected the question saying," Ten."
While head coach Scott Gordon admitted Lyon's first two starts in the beginning of the year weren't situations where the Phantoms put their goaltender in a good position to win a hockey game, Lyon admitted it was a tough pill to swallow after a strong performance in training camp and both the NHL and AHL preseason circuits.
But like Lyon said, it's more about bouncing back for the next game and finding that consistency and understanding what it takes to win at the next level - something Gordon mirrored Lyon's sentiments on in a separate interview later that afternoon.
"Maybe I'm not going to on ridiculous stretches or anything like that, but I think my consistency, my ability to bounce back over a five or seven game series - that starts to shine a little bit more. Guys who can put the same product on the ice every night, so for me I'm excited to showcase that a little bit."
Mentoring Carter Hart
Lyon has seemingly gone from the student to the teacher in his first full season of pro hockey, coming in as a rookie and learning the ropes and now with Carter Hart joining the team fresh off another strong season in the WHL with Everett it's his turn to show the new guy the subtle nuances of pro hockey with the Phantoms.
"For sure it's a bit of an interesting dynamic change. I got to know Carter pretty well actually through development camp and training camp," Lyon explained of his already existing relationship with Hart. "I really like him, and think he's an awesome guy."
While it's up to Lyon to show Hart the little things to make him feel comfortable - simple things even like where to stretch in the weight room or the protocol for certain things - he's also viewing as a chance to learn things from Hart as well.
"I'd be totally stupid not to take advantage of what he has to offer as well," Lyon said, adding, "There's no secret that he's a second rounder, the experiences he's been through with world juniors. He's a really good goalie so I'm going to try to learn as much as I can from him for as long as we are here together."
"He does things the right way, really technically sound. Three years ago in his spot, I was really scrambling around - couldn't even figure my life out. He's a mature guy and I think with anything I'm going to be able to learn just as much if not more from him."