Is the NAHL South Division turning into a Goalie Factory?
In 2012 two South Division goalies were selected. Corpus Christi’s Anthony Stolarz was picked in the second round by the Philadelphia Flyers and Odessa’s Connor Hellebuyck was selected by the Winnipeg Jets in the fifth round. On Sunday it was Evan Cowley of the Wichita Falls Wildcats who was at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey to hear his name called as the fourth round pick of the Florida Panthers.
Cowley a 6’ 4” – 185 pound native of Evergreen, Colorado tied for the NAHL lead in games played with 50 and was 2nd in minutes played with 2,897. He finished the season ranked 4th in saves with 1,259 and had a 2.90 GAA and a .900 SV%. Cowley built a 22-24-4 record including 3 shutouts, backstopping one of the youngest teams in the league. In addition to competing in the NAHL, Cowley represented the USA as a member of the U18 team at the Five Nations Tournament in Jonkoping, Sweden. Against Czechoslovakia, Russia and Sweden he was 2-1-0 with a 2.33 GAA and a .879 SV%.
Earlier this month the NAHL announced that Cowley had committed to play NCAA Division I hockey for the University of Denver for the 2014/15 season.
“It is very surreal. I was excited to be drafted into the NAHL and then a year later to hear my name called in the NHL Draft shows just how far things have come in a year’s time. I didn’t think it would happen that fast, but this past year has been a great ride and given me a lot of experience, so hopefully things keep going that way,” Cowley told NAHL.com following his selection by the Panthers. “Obviously you get an opportunity like this, to get drafted, it’s a big day,” said Cowley. “I just tried to stay calm and collected and it worked out very well. I met with Florida on Saturday and they mentioned to me that they might be selecting me early in the fourth round. They had a bunch of picks lined up there so I just had my fingers crossed going into the fourth round and it worked out.”
With the recent success of goalies in the South Division you can look for more of the top flight prospects to be turning to the division and NAHL as a whole. A look at some of the other notable netminders to come from the NAHL South Division over the past few years shows why many consider it to be the toughest division in the league.
Ben Bishop – Texas Tornado 2004/2005: Bishop went on to play three seasons with the University of Maine taking the Black Bears to the NCAA Frozen Four twice. Bishop made his NHL debut with St Louis during the 2010 season and finished last season with the Tampa Bay Lightning following a mid season trade from Ottawa. He has an NHL career record of 18-17-4 including 3 shutouts with a 2.67 GAA and a .913 SV%.
Riley Gill – Texarkana 2003/2006: After his stint with the Bandits, Gill spent four seasons with Western Michigan University before moving into the professional ranks late in the 2009/10 season. Professionally Gill has logged a 73-35-5 record with 13 shutouts with a 2.59 GAA and .912 SV% mainly in the ECHL. Gill won the 2013 ECHL championship with the Reading Royals and was named the Kelly Cup MVP. He was 13-3-1 in the playoffs in 2013 with a 1.91 GAA and .930 SV%.
Andrew Volkening –Springfield/ Wasilla Spirit 2004/06: Volkening spent four seasons at the Air Force Academy running up a 69-37-14 record. Volkening led the Fighting Falcons to the Atlantic Hockey Championship three times in his four seasons with the team.
Cal Heeter –Wichita Falls/ St Louis 2006/08: Heeter followed his NAHL career with four years at Ohio State before signing a two year entry contract with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2012. He split the 2012/13 season between the AHL Adirondack Phantoms and ECHL Trenton Titans compiling a 15-19-3 record with a 2.97 GAA and a .906 SV%.
Bryce Merriam – Topeka 2005/09: Merriam parlayed his time in the NAHL into a scholarship with RPI in the ECAC. After completing his 2012/13 season with RPI he made the jump to the ECHL Orlando Solar Bears where he saw action in three games putting up a 4.74 GAA and a .853 SV%.
Pat Nagle – St Louis 2006/07: Nagle headed off to Ferris State after hoisting the Robertson Cup National Championship with the St Louis Bandits. In March 2011, Nagle signed a two year entry contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning and was assigned to the Florida Everblades of the ECHL where he racked up a 34-23-6 record on 2.94 GAA and a .904SV%.
Cody Reichard – Fairbanks 2007/08: Reichard spent four year with the University or Miami OH Redhawks finishing with an impressive 53-24-9 record. In 2012/13 he started the season with the Stockton Thunder of the ECHL before being loaned to the Houston Aeros of the AHL. He finished the season with a combined 16-9-6 record.
Keith Kinkaid – St Louis 2008/09: Kinkaid spent only two years with Union College before making the jump to the AHL Albany Devils. Kinkaid showed enough in his 87 game with Albany to earn a late 2013 call up to the parent New Jersey Devils where he made his NHL debut on March 5th allowing one goal in a 26 minute relief appearance.
Dan Sullivan – Texas 2008/10: Sullivan has established a 32-24-5 record in three seasons with the University of Maine. He was named to the Hockey East All-Rookie Team in 2011.
Anthony Stolarz – Corpus Christi 2011/12: Stolarz was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers following his season with the Icerays. He briefly played for the University of Nebraska Omaha before heading off to the London Knights of the OHL. With London Stolarz was 13-3-2 in the regular season with a 2.29 GAA and a .920 SV%. He went 13-4-1 in the playoffs to lead the Knights to the league championship.
Connor Hellebuyck – Odessa 2011/12: After the Winnipeg Jets took Hellebuyck in the fifth round of the 2012 draft, he headed off to UMass Lowell where he was 20-3-0 with a miniscule 1.37 GAA and a .952 SV%. The River Hawks made it as far as the semi-finals of the Frozen Four before losing to eventual NCAA Champion Yale.
Peter Traber – Topeka 2011/12: Traber played in eight games during his freshman season at Harvard going 2-1-0 with a 3.20 GAA and a .918 SV%.