Shane Soderwall hasn’t made many of the flashy, highlight-reel type saves this season.
It’s not that the 18-year-old, second-year goalie for the Rochester Grizzlies is incapable of making those big stops. It’s that he is so sound in his play that he doesn’t need to.
“It’s his positioning and anticipation,” Grizzlies assistant coach Mike Aikens said. “He can read a play. He knows where the puck is going and he’s under control. You don’t see him have to make the unbelievable saves because he’s just in the right spot.
“The guys you see have to make some of the unbelievable, athletic, miraculous saves are guys who really screwed up to begin with. Shane is just very solid in everything he does.”
Soderwall also is a more confident, comfortable goalie this season, his second in the North American 3 Hockey League. The rookie jitters are gone and so are the two goalies he battled with for ice time a season ago, Mathias Backstrom and Sean Guerin. Guerin remained in the NA3HL and played this season for the Mid Cities Jr. Stars in Euless, Texas, a Dallas suburb. Backstrom — last year’s NA3HL Goalie of the Year — is playing Division III hockey at Nichols College in Dudley, Mass.
“Him seeing Mathias, I think helped him tremendously,” Grizzlies head coach Chris Ratzloff said, “how professional Mathias was in everything on-ice and off-ice, I think that was very good for Shane and two or three years from now when he looks back and sees his progression, I think he’ll realize how good it was for him to have played with Mathias.”
Soderwall has taken the reins from Backstrom this season and ran with them. He may also repeat Backstrom’s feat of being the league’s Goalie of the Year. Heading into the NA3HL playoffs, Soderwall leads the entire league in wins (19), goals-against average (1.30), save percentage (.949) and shutouts (six).
“My mental game has gotten a lot better this year,” the 6-foot-1, 175-pound native of Algonquin, Illinois, said, “and working with my teammates, encouraging them more. If I do that, they want to play for me and vice versa.”
A first in his family
Soderwall doesn’t come from a family full of hockey players. In fact, he’s the only one.
He fell in love with the game at an early age when his dad, a Detroit native and avid Red Wings fan, would have NHL games on the TV.
“I thinking I just grew a liking to the fast pace of the game and there’s a lot of action to it,” Soderwall said. “Then I started playing youth hockey. My dad just took me to an open skate once and it went uphill from there.”
He didn’t have his mind set on playing goalie until the opportunity arose at a practice one day.
“No one else wanted to be the goalie on our team,” Soderwall said with a laugh, “so I stepped up and put the pads on. I just thought it was a lot of fun because of all the pressure on you and I like that.”
He has certainly handled the pressure well this season, pairing with Owatonna native Zach Wiese to help the Grizzlies go 34-5-1 and win their second consecutive NA3HL Central Division championship.
Rochester opened postseason play Friday night against the Oregon (Wis.) Tradesmen, at the Rochester Recreation Center, in Game 1 of a best-of-3 NA3HL Central Division semifinal series. Game 2 is tonight at 7:05 p.m. at the Rec Center. If a Game 3 is needed, it is set for 3 p.m. Sunday at Oregon.
“They’re very gritty,” Soderwall said of the Tradesmen. “They don’t try to make the pretty play, they’ll try to get those dirty rebound goals around the crease. They have a very good power play, very structured. They run a tight ship over there.”
That’s the same way Soderwall handles his net.
He has taken over as the Grizzlies starter down the stretch and has flourished. He is 19-2-0 as a starter this season and hasn’t lost a game in three-and-a-half months, since a 2-1 loss at Central Division rival Peoria (Illinois) on December 19.
His success this season comes on the heels of a strong rookie campaign, when he went 11-1-0 with a 1.76 GAA and a .920 save percentage while sharing the net with Backstrom and Guerin.
“Shane has matured a lot over the course of this year,” Aikens said. “He’s grown up and just done a lot of good things. I think he’ll get rewarded for that down the road.
“The other guys recognize it and want to play hard for him. Last year, for Shane, every now and then there was a weak goal scored, but this year, I can’t even think of one.”
Soderwall said the Grizzlies have a goal of ending the season as Fraser Cup champions, the trophy awarded to the NA3HL champion, but he said they’re not looking past the first-round series against Oregon.
“It’s just getting our guys prepared,” he said. “It’s another game to us at this point. We’ve done it eight times already this year with the Tradesmen, so if we just play our game we’ll be fine.”