From the UHL to the NHL: Goalie gets a chance to show his stuff

By Megan Sexton
His name is virtually unknown but his play is turning heads. Dieter Kochan, 25, has bounced between 8 different hockey leagues including the International Federation of Roller Skating (FIRS) an inline league. He is finally getting a shot at the big time though, recently signing with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Kochan was originally drafted by the Vancouver Canucks in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft 98th overall. He never came to terms with the team and went on to attend Northern Michigan University. In 106 games with the Wild Cats he posted a 4.09 GAA and went 32-60-7. While playing with NMU, Kochan received numerous awards including Best Defensive player in 1996-97 and Most Valuable Player along with Most Valuable Defensive player in 1995-96.

Kochan led the USA Roller Hockey National team to a gold medal in the 1997 FIRS Roller Hockey World Championship in Austria last June. He was also a member of the 1996 National team who captured the gold in Italy.

After college, Kochan went on to play for the Louisville River Frogs of the ECHL posting a 3.73 GAA in 18 games. He started the 1998-99 season with the BC Icemen of the OHL and had a decent season going 18-16-5.

The 1999-00 season has appeared to be Kochan’s breakout season where he went 29-11-3 with the BC Icemen recording a 2.59 GAA and a .925 save percentage. He then bounced between leagues going 4-0 with Orlando of the IHL. Then playing 2 games with Springfield of the AHL and 2 more with Grand Rapids of the IHL before signing with the Tampa Bay Lightning in March.

Usually by the age of 25 a quality player has been picked up, but when Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Rick Dudley received a tip on Kochan he responded immediately. Goaltenders seem to be a different case, many top goalies do not hit their peak until they are in their mid to late twenties. This appears to be the case with Kochan, as it was with Washington Capitals goaltender Olaf Kolzig who spent his career in the minors before emerging into a star at age 27. Dudley received multiple scouting reports praising Kochan’s play. Even Lightning goaltending coach Jeff Reese commented on his brilliant play. With other teams interested, Dudley worked quickly to get a deal done.

Kochan got a chance to showcase his talents in the NHL on March 28th when he opened in net for the Tampa Bay Lightning verse the Stanley Cup Champion Dallas Stars. Kochan appeared very shaky and was pulled after allowing 3 goals in 6 shots. He returned in the 3rd period in replacement of an injured Dan Cloutier and put on a good show. Lightning coach Steve Ludzik insisted not to judge him by this one game. They have given Dieter multiple chances to prove himself and on April 4th he did, stopping 30 of 31 shots and picking up his first NHL win against the Boston Bruins at the Ice Palace. In his 5 games with the Lightning, Kochan has a 1-4 record and a 4.28 GAA. Not impressive numbers but given his age and the fact that he played his 5 games with the Lightning behind a rookie defense, there is a lot of potential there.

Kochan has also made history becoming the first player ever to jump straight from the UHL to the NHL.