Over 40 years ago, Gary McAlpine was a standout goalie for the South St. Paul Packers, named to the Minnesota State High School Hockey All-Tournament team in 1961. After high school, McAlpine played junior hockey for the Brandon Wheat Kings and then served in the military and afterwards became a police officer. In the late 80s McAlpine served as South St. Paul’s goalie coach while his eldest son Michael played for the Packers. After a few seasons off, he returned to the post for a few more seasons. McAlpine has seen a number of goalies in years following and coaching South St. Paul high school hockey, but one goalie heads the list.
“There have been some talented goaltenders here over the years, and Al [Stalock] would be at the very top of the list,” McAlpine told Hockey’s Future in a phone interview.
When McAlpine told Packers head coach Jeff Lagoo that Stalock was the best goalie that he’d ever coached, Lagoo took notice of his veteran coach’s opinion.
“That’s when we knew we had something special,” Lagoo said.
Stalock’s name entered the prospect radar screen during the 2003-04 season. He played every minute of all 31 games the South St. Paul Packers played and led the team to the semifinals of the Class AA State Tournament. In so doing, Stalock was named to the All-Tournament Team, like McAlpine 43 years earlier, but he was also named Second Team All-State, All-Metro, and All-Conference (Suburban), as well as the Packers Team MVP.
Coach McAlpine seemed to agree that Stalock was the Team MVP in 2003-04.
“There’s no doubt that without Alex they wouldn’t have gotten to the State Tournament,” McAlpine said. “They worked hard, but without Al and the good goaltending and him coming up with key saves at critical times, they wouldn’t have gotten there.”
Stalock was the man at South St. Paul his junior year of high school, but last season Stalock platooned with fellow Roughrider netminder Dan Tormey. Tormey, who’s now at Minnesota State University-Mankato, was a USHL Second-Team All-Star last season after posting a .926 save percentage and 2.25 goals-against average during the regular season. Stalock’s regular season numbers of .905 and 2.73 in 32 games were good, but not as good as Tormey’s.
However, Stalock became the Roughriders go-to-guy as the USHL Playoffs progressed. The Roughriders tandem rotated in net during the team’s series against the Indiana Ice in the first round of the playoffs. Tormey started Game 1, and Stalock started Game 2, making 41 saves on 43 shots for the 6-2 win. Tormey started Game 3 to finish off the Ice, but Carlson stayed with the rotation and tapped Stalock for Game 1 against the Chicago Steel in the semifinals. Stalock made 29 saves for the 2-1 win. Then Stalock started Game 2 against Chicago, making 43 saves for a 2-1 overtime victory. Then Stalock started Game 3 against Chicago and eliminated the Steel with a 44-save performance for the 4-2 victory. Suddenly, the Roughriders were no longer rotating their goalies.
“I just thought that Al stepped his play up to the level where I felt he had to be in there,” Roughriders head coach Mark Carlson said of his decision to go with Stalock for the rest of the playoffs.
Stalock did not disappoint. Stalock started all five games against the Sioux City Muskateers and helped Cedar Rapids win its first Clark Cup, the USHL Playoff championship trophy. The South St. Paul native only relinquished more than two goals in the playoffs once, Cedar Rapids’ 4-3 double-overtime victory of Sioux City in Game 3. On the stingy side, Stalock shut out the Muskateers in Game 1 of the Clark Cup Finals, a 5-0 victory.
“Winning the Clark Cup was probably the best accomplishment I’ve ever had as a hockey player and as a team,” Stalock said. “It was just unbelievable to finally be the best in the league after the 71 games it took.”
Carlson never told Stalock outright that he was going to be the starter for the semifinals and finals. It is only upon retrospect that one can see the decision.
“Coach never really told either me or Dan that we were going to be the guy to play the next few games,” Stalock said. “Coach would let us know the day before the game to get us ready, but he didn’t want to let us know who was playing the whole week to get complacent in practice.”
Far from complacent, and only 17 years old when he backstopped the Roughriders to the Clark Cup, Stalock was named the Clark Cup Most Valuable Player after winning 7 of his 9 starts and compiling a .950 save percentage and 1.44 goals-against average in 582 minutes of playoff action.
So vital to Cedar Rapids’ playoff success, Stalock was not even Roughriders property after the 2004 USHL Draft. Stalock was originally drafted by the Sioux Falls Stampede in the second round of the USHL Draft with the 14th overall pick. The Stampede retained four goalies after their tryout camp, which concerned Stalock. If Stalock was going to lose his high school eligibility his senior year, he wanted to go to a team that he was far more confident would retain him, so Stalock asked Sioux Falls to trade him.
Carlson, who is also Cedar Rapids’ general manager, moved and made the trade.
“We’d watched him play high school hockey, and when he became available, we decided to make the trade, and fortunately things worked out,” Carlson said.
Carlson liked Stalock’s competitiveness and charisma, saying, “When I watched him play prior to coming into our league, I loved the fire that he had, the charisma that he had.
“There was something there that made you want to coach him.”
McAlpine already knew from two years of experience that Carlson’s hunch about Stalock was correct.
“Alex was very easy to coach and he always wanted to do the extra work that you needed to do to make yourself a better goalie,” McAlpine said. “If you did a number of shooting drills, he’d always want to do two or three more.
“Some goalies don’t want to work that hard, but Alex would never shy away from that (work).”
Before Carlson had the chance to coach Stalock, Lagoo had also already coached him for two seasons. Lagoo, entering his ninth season coaching South St. Paul’s high school team, said Stalock played “a style I’ve never seen before from a high school kid.”
“He’s definitely a very athletic goalie, butterfly style, very aggressive, and likes to move the puck and headman it up the ice,” Lagoo said. “There haven’t been too many Minnesota high school goalies who could do that.”
Stalock moved the puck so well that he picked up 8 assists in 31 games, more than some of the Packers defensemen. Lagoo figures that nearly half of Stalock’s assists were passes up to his brother Nick, a senior at South St. Paul at the time who now plays NCAA DIII hockey for St. Olaf in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
Having Nick as a brother gave Alex a bit of a head start at each level from mites through high school before playing together at each level.
“We grew up playing on youth teams together, we each got a year together,” Stalock said. “It was kind of nice playing with him and watching him at the next step to see what it was going to be like.”
After Nick graduated high school, Alex considered his options and resolved to play junior hockey. Looking back on the decision, Stalock said, “I think it was time to move on and just realize that if I wanted to move on as a goalie and mature and make the next step, I needed to move on and move away from home and learn what it’s going to take to make the next step.”
Stalock’s decision to forego his senior season of high school hockey gave Lagoo mixed emotions.
“It was bittersweet,” Lagoo said. “It’s great to see a player have an opportunity to move on and develop his skills, but on the same side, with a little selfishness, we were hoping he’d return to South St. Paul.
McAlpine felt the same way as Lagoo.
“As a high school coach, you’d like to see him finish out his high school career,” McAlpine said.
“On the other hand, which is more beneficial for him?” McAlpine asked rhetorically. “Playing junior, where he’s going to face better competition, quality of players, and quality of shots.”
“You hated to see him go, but I was firmly convinced that he was going to do well if he did go,” McAlpine said.
Obviously, Stalock did go, but the loss of Stalock to the USHL was a loss to more than just the players and the coaches at South St. Paul.
“It would have been fun for the fans, and a lot of people were hoping to see him come back because he was so exciting in net, probably the most exciting goalie South St. Paul has ever had,” Lagoo said.
Lagoo had grown accustomed to watching Stalock excel, having seen the diminutive goalie excel at each level in the South St. Paul youth level, but Lagoo said his former goalie’s rookie USHL season surprised him, then he corrected himself.
“I was surprised and I wasn’t,” Lagoo said. “I just thought maybe, as a goaltender, for a kid who’d only played two years of high school hockey, I thought it’d take him a little longer to adjust.
“Seeing the success he had, I knew he’d be successful, I just thought maybe the transition would be a little slower.”
Lagoo’s expectations were molded more by his assessment of the USHL rather than by Stalock’s ability, which he considers top notch. Although Stalock was one of the top goaltenders in all of Minnesota high school hockey as a junior, colleges were not beating down the doors to nab the South St. Paul product.
“A lot of college teams are a little afraid to touch [high school goalies], because they don’t play the number of games or face the quality of players that junior goalies do,” Lagoo said.
Stalock, who became a sought-after commodity during his rookie USHL season, can see why playing in the USHL made the difference.
“High school hockey in Minnesota has a great reputation and everything, but the speed, size, and game is so much different and faster in the USHL,” Stalock said. “The USHL is definitely a couple steps up.”
After such an impressive season in the USHL, Stalock had numerous college opportunities, but in the end, he picked the University of Minnesota-Duluth because it is in his home state and is only 2½ hours from St. Paul. University of Minnesota-Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin was asked to comment on his future netminder, but was unable to do so until the future Bulldog officially commits to UMD, which will be in early November.
Although another season of USHL hockey is in Stalock’s immediate future, and then college hockey at UMD after that, his long-term future could be in the NHL, a future which looked that much more possible after the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. However, prior to draft day, Stalock had little indication that he’d be drafted.
“The only team that I thought I’d have a chance of getting drafted by was New Jersey,” Stalock said. “I interviewed with them in the summer and I figured I’d go in the sixth or seventh round.”
Not one to hang by the Internet to see if and when he was drafted, Stalock spent draft day fishing with friends. After his mother called him and said that New Jersey had selected U.S. National Developmental Team goalie Jeff Frazee in the second round with the 38th overall pick in the draft, Stalock figured he wasn’t going to get drafted. He learned otherwise later that evening.
“We got in from the lake at 9:00 and my buddy’s dad asked if I had talked to my mom again,” Stalock recalled. “I said ‘no,’ and he said I had been drafted by the Sharks in the fourth round.
Stalock’s cell phone reception was spotty while fishing.
“The next day I had 20 new messages.”
The message this season in the USHL is that Stalock is the top netminder. Stalock started the season strong with a 41-save performance over the Tri-City Storm to win 3-1 in the team’s season opener. The performance earned Stalock Defensive Player of the Week honors on Sept. 26. A month into the USHL season, Stalock is again one of the top netminders. His 2.44 goals-against average is fifth among all USHL goalies and his .926 save percentage is fourth. Take away Cedar Rapids’ 5-4 loss to the Steel Saturday night, a game which Stalock made only 17 saves on 22 shots, and Stalock would likely still top the USHL statistical charts.
Stalock may not be perfect, but Team USA has called upon him tend net at the Viking Cup Tryout Camp in Burnsville, Minn. Oct. 31-Nov. 2. One of six goaltenders invited to the camp, Stalock is one of the favorites to make Team USA’s roster to play in the tournament in Camrose, Alberta. Team USA will face Finland, Slovakia, Switzerland, and Germany’s U-18 national teams, as well as the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Northern All-Star Team and Southern All-Star Team. Stalock has a history of making the teams around him better, and he may have the chance to do the same for Team USA.
South St. Paul and Cedar Rapids down, Team USA, UMD and San Jose to go.
Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.