October 19, 2012

Darcy Wakaluk's Wacky Career


A lot of people of my generation will always remember Ron Hextall becoming the first NHL goalie to actually score a goal by shooting the puck the length of the ice into an open net.

But I always remember three days earlier Rochester Americans (AHL) goaltender Darcy Wakaluk accomplished the feat first.

On December 5th, 1987 Wakaluk shot the puck into the Utica Devils vacant net with just 1 second left in the game. In doing so Wakaluk became the first goaltender in AHL history to score a goal, and only the third goalie in North American pro hockey history to do so (Michel Plasse of the CHL and Billy Smith of the NHL).

Wakaluk had an even better chance to score a goal about a month later. On the night of January 10th, 1988, Waklauk skated in a game against Nova Scotia as a forward! The Amerks were down to just 11 skaters due to injuries and NHL call ups. Coach John Van Boxmeer dressed the 21 year old goalie as a winger with the idea that he would be parked on the bench and never see the ice. But in the third period Wakaluk did skate, and he even had a shot on goal.

"He (Wakaluk) had as much business being out there as anybody else," said Van Boxmeer after the game. "At least he had a scoring chance. Some guys go five games without a chance."

Wakaluk returned to the nets after that game, determined to play in the NHL. But that would not happen in the Sabres organization. He would get into 22 games with the Sabres, but otherwise was stuck in the minor leagues for 5 seasons.

Wakaluk was traded to Minnesota in 1991 almost as an after-thought. The Sabres only got an 8th round draft pick in return. In a steal the North Stars got themselves a NHL calibre goaltender.

"In my mind, I've always thought I could play in the NHL but there have been a lot of questions in other people's minds," Wakaluk said. "I think if I didn't feel I could play in the NHL, I'd quit. Hockey is a hard grind in the minors."

Wakaluk's first full season in the NHL came with Dallas in 1991-92. He played 36 games, finishing ith a respectable 13-19-1 record while proving to be a more-than-capable back up to Jon Casey.

"I'm grateful to the North Stars for giving me the opportunity. All I ever wanted was a chance. It's not easy to feel part of a team when you're called up (from the minors) and you know you'll probably get sent back. When you're here, there's a snowball effect. You play with more confidence, you're more relaxed and the better you feel, the better you play and more confidence you have."

Wakaluk parlayed that strong season into 5 more seasons in the NHL - four more with Minnesota/Dallas Stars and another with the Phoenix Coyotes.

Wakaluk's career came to a sudden end on January 3rd, 1997. In a game against the Washington Capitals Wakaluk suffered a seemingly routine knee injury. Unfortunately, Wakaluk never returned to play another game as multiple surgeries could not strengthen his knee.

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