Meteoric rise for Flyers prospect Anthony Stolarz

Posted: June 26, 2013

First of three parts

One year.

That's how long it took Flyers prospect Anthony Stolarz to go from stopping pucks in relative obscurity in the barren, second-tier hockey outpost of Corpus Christi, Texas, to starting Game 1 of the Memorial Cup on Canada's biggest junior stage this spring.

Oh, and there was a brief, 3-month stay wedged in between there at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

"It's nice to take a look back for a minute and reflect," Stolarz said. "It's been quite a ride."

Believe it or not, Stolarz' journey to the Flyers begins with Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky. With hardly any scrutiny at the time, general manager Paul Holmgren moved Bobrovsky to Columbus last June in exchange for a second- and two fourth-round picks.

With that No. 45 overall selection, the Flyers nabbed their first legitimate goaltending prospect since Maxime Ouellet in the 1999 draft. Stolarz, 19, is a 6-6 monster between the pipes.

"When you find a guy with that kind of size with great mobility, it really opens your eyes," Flyers goalie scout Neil Little said last fall. "Anthony is a tremendous athlete, and from a technical standpoint he has a real good foundation. He can only improve from there and we expect big things from him."

Even the Flyers couldn't have expected Stolarz would advance as far and as fast as he did this season: three leagues in the span of one season, with his statistics actually improving as he moved up each level in competition.

After being selected by the Flyers last summer, Stolarz enrolled at Nebraska-Omaha to play for their nationally ranked program in a sparkling downtown arena. He enjoyed the program, the town and his teammates, but wasn't thrilled about splitting his playing time with starter John Faulkner and Dayn Belfour, the son of former NHLer Eddie Belfour.

Even though a Division I scholarship was a "dream come true," Stolarz had a formal offer waiting with the OHL's London Knights and coach Dale Hunter.

So, after consulting with both the Flyers and his parents, Stolarz decided to drop out from the NCAA, lose his eligibility and play in London. (Canadian major junior players are paid a stipend.)

For Stolarz, a Jackson, N.J., native, the tough sell was his parents. The Flyers already have a close relationship with London, since Comcast-Spectacor manages its home arena, the Budweiser Gardens, and they play an annual preseason game there.

"Ian Laperriere was guiding me through the entire process," said Stolarz, referring to the Flyers' director of player development. "We sat down and talked about the pros and cons of the decision. The Flyers were really supportive, they didn't try to sway me one way or the other.

"I knew it was better for me for hockey. But it was a huge thing for my parents. They wanted me to get my education."

Stolarz made a compromise. He would take two classes per semester at the University of Western Ontario, just down the street in London, if he could play for the Knights. If the NHL didn't work out, the Knights would pay for his college education in Canada, as they do with all of their full-time players.

Once in London, Stolarz beat out not only the Knights' backup, but also entrenched starter Jake Patterson in the final months of the season. He went 13-3-2 in the final 20 games with a .920 save percentage and 2.29 goals-against average.

He was cruising through the OHL playoffs with the Knights until he stumbled in the OHL championship series against Barrie.

"It was a learning experience, that's for sure," Stolarz said. "I wasn't up to par. I think coach made the right decision, he needed to shake up the team. It was probably more fatigue than anything for me."

The decision worked. London won and advanced to the Memorial Cup, before falling short. Stolarz finished the playoffs with a 13-5 record, 2.53 GAA and .923 save percentage.

The best part is that Stolarz is likely to see time in the Memorial Cup next season, too, since London will be hosting the tournament. But that isn't the only big-ticket item on his agenda.

Stolarz is considered the front-runner to be Team USA's starter at the World Junior Championships in December. He was at their goaltender evaluation camp in Ann Arbor, Mich., 2 weeks ago.

In the meantime, Stolarz will be spending a good portion of the summer at the Flyers' practice facility, working on-ice with goalie coach Jeff Reese and off-ice doing yoga for flexibility and other conditioning exercises. When he's not there, you can find him at his local sporting goods store, where he works alongside his older brother just to stay busy.

"The OHL was everything I've ever dreamed of, so was this season," Stolarz said. "I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. And now I'm hungry for more."

Tomorrow: Mark Alt.

" @DNFlyers


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