Q&A with Dimitri Patzold

By Kevin Wey

San Jose Sharks prospect goaltender Dimitri Patzold appeared to be trending in a positive direction heading into 2005-06. The 22-year-old netminder platooned with Nolan Schaefer for the Cleveland Barons in 2004-05 and managed a winning record of 18-16-5 and a team-leading 2.58 goals-against average and .911 save percentage, in the lockout-upgraded AHL. However, the 2005-06 season has not been as kind to the German prospect.

Patzold has been plagued by inconsistency and, worse, a knee injury that took him out of the line-up for a month. The third-year pro has given up five or more goals in eight of his 15 starts and has a dismal 4-11 record. However, he has also had at least one standout performance each month of the season, showing what he can do if he’s on his game. The Barons backup saved 36 of 37 shots in a 2-1 victory over Hamilton Oct. 22. His standout game in November was a valiant 40-save effort in a 4-2 defeat to Hershey Nov. 23, including one empty-net goal. Struggling San Antonio had difficult finding a way past Patzold in a 3-1 loss to the Barons Dec. 2, in which Patzold made 31 saves. The New Year also started out right for Patzold, as his first game from injury was a 32-save performance in a 5-2 win over Peoria Jan. 7, just over a month after his last game on Dec. 6.

Part of the Sharks’ German draft of 2001, the fourth round draft pick has backstopped Germany at the U18’s and the World Junior Championships, including some standout performances in the 2003 World Junior Championships in Sydney and Halifax. One of Germany’s top young goalies, Patzold is actually a foreign-born German, an “Aussiedler.” Born in Kazakhstan in Feb. 3, 1983, then part of the Soviet Union, Patzold played and practiced in Kamenogorsk until he was 13. Patzold’s parents moved back to Deutschland in 1996, and he’s been a top German prospect ever since.

Hockey’s Future caught up to Patzold recently to discuss his frustrating 2005-06 season, his time in the Sharks organization, his development in Germany, and his youth in Kazakhstan.

HF: You’ve had a frustrating season with the knee injury, how is that coming along?

DP: Not a lot to tell. I hurt myself in practice and at that point missed probably 16 games. Right now I’m trying to get back to old form and trying to help the team.

HF: Last year you and Nolan Schaefer nearly split the minutes evenly, what was it like last year platooning with Schaefer?

DP: It was good for us both. We are both young goalies and everybody got a chance to play. Sure, every goalie likes to play more, probably. I think we both worked pretty hard last year and it was pretty good.

HF: Overall, were you happy with your performance last season?

DP: It was a good season, not excellent, but a pretty good season. I had a winning season last year, it’s what I’m trying to get this season again, but it’s kind of tough this year. I cannot get rolling this season. This injury has kind of kept me out of it.

HF: Speaking of injuries, injuries in San Jose promoted you to the Sharks for a little while, what was your emergency recall to the NHL like?

DP: Sure, you are pretty excited. Everybody who goes up first time to the NHL is pretty excited, and it was the same thing with me. I expect to play until I get a chance to play, but Nolan played unbelievable at the time, and it was nice for him. But it was kind of a good thing to see him playing there. You spend the whole season with him last year, and like you said we played even games, and you see this guy can play at this level, so you kind of expect the same from yourself, but you just kind of need to get a chance.

HF: You’ve attended a few Sharks training camps, how beneficial has it been to skate in those camps with NHL players?

DP: You get to see better where your weaknesses are. Everything is a little bit faster in every point, like shooting, passing, like passes are excellent. That’s the biggest difference I think, to me, as a goalie, you have to move faster, get there, get set, and if you’re not, you’re not ready to face the shot. So you see what you have to work on.

HF: What have been some of your biggest improvements the past two and a half seasons in the AHL?

DP: A little bit of everything. I think the most improvement was the positioning play and getting set for shots, kind of being there on time before the puck arrives there, like reading the play, rebounds, getting set, recovery, fast recovery and get set for second shot.

HF: What would you say are the strengths of your game?

DP: I would say the biggest strength is probably my skating ability, so I have to build on this. I stay on my feet for the most part, sure at some points you have to go down, not reaching for pucks, more getting there on your feet.

HF: Any areas you’re looking to improve on so that one day you can play in San Jose?

DP: I think you have to improve in everything. The biggest thing right now is probably just getting on rebounds faster. I think the experience, just read the play and read the situation faster. Sometimes you try to much as a young goalie and you see goalies in the NHL, they just play their positioning and the puck keeps hitting them.

HF: You’re in the third year of your entry-level contract and San Jose has a number of other young goalies, like Thomas Greiss, Patrick Ehelechner, Taylor Dakers, and Jason Churchill. Do you feel any additional pressure to perform knowing they have additional guys in the pipeline?

DP: Some people are saying, ‘You don’t have so much time in this league right now.’ Like, the most people spend here is maybe three or four years and they’re done. Otherwise, I think I’m still young for a goaltender. I build up pressure for myself to reach the goal of the NHL, and that’s what I focus for.

HF: Going back to draft day 2001, how did you learn you’d been drafted and what was your reaction?

DP: I was at the lake, when my agent called me, with my friends. He told me the message and I just all of the sudden started jumping and screaming around, so my buddies just looked at me as if I were crazy. Yeah, I was pretty excited, sure. It was my dream from the beginning of my career when I was in Russia as a kid, I always dreamed to come over here. The dream still continues, so I hope I can make it to the NHL.

HF: Are you at all surprised at the number of Germans the Sharks have drafted?

DP: It was kind of surprising. I think Marco Sturm was the point. They liked him as a player and also as a guy in the dressing room, as a character, so maybe it was because of him. I’m not really sure.

HF: When you played in the German Elite League, a lot of times the young German goalie serves as a back-up to a North American goalie, is that at all frustrating?

DP: Yes, it is kind of, but it’s also a pretty big jump. The junior in Germany is not the same level as Canadian junior, for example, so you have a pretty big jump. The guys, the North American guys, they are already players. It’s tough to get ice time, because you probably have about 52 games in a season, compared to here it’s 80. So, as a goalie, you get more chances here because one guy cannot play 80 games. It’s a lot tougher in Germany because of less games.

HF: What were some of the benefits of playing in the DEL? How did your game improve?

DP: You play against experienced guys. All of the guys played either NHL or either played a long time in the IHL or AHL here, so it’s a lot of experience in the league. So, you have to improve against those guys. So when I came over here it was kind of at the same level, just a different game, a little bit faster and more physical. There are more skilled guys here, younger guys, but also, in Germany, you have those guys who played 300, 200 NHL games, and they have the experience to wait you out sometimes.

HF: You played for Team Germany at the 2003 World Junior Championships in Canada, you played pretty well in a lot of the games, had anything you’d played before then prepared you, and what allowed you to play so well?

DP: I don’t know. I think if you play for your country, it’s a big thing all of the time. Every time I played for my country I was standing on my head, motivated very much. I think all you try to do is just try and help your country and your teammates to be successful.

HF: Is there that extra level of pride when you wear the national team jersey than if you’re playing for Cleveland, Cologne, or Duisburg, or some team like that?

DP: No, it will always be a special thing for any nation you play for, but the thing in the league is the same. You always wear the jersey, you represent the San Jose Sharks organization and the Cleveland Barons, it’s also special.

HF: What are your aspirations with the national team?

DP: I hope to make the A team, the big national team, but it’s kind of tough if you’re playing in the AHL. Nobody really sees you playing and it’s hard to prove to the coaches. The better chance will be for sure if I get up to the NHL (laughing).

HF: Do you think that’s the edge that Thomas Greiss had, is that he is playing in Germany and named as the third string goalie?

DP: Yes. I never see him play in a game, but I just read the stuff like everybody else on the Internet. He improved a lot this year and it will be a pretty good chance for him to come over here I think. But he still has a hard time, I read that the coach in Cologne, Hans Zach, he was the coach for the German national team before the current one, he keeps going with this other guy as the No. 1 goalie. It’s probably sad for Thomas to be outstanding in the first half of a season and he keeps playing the other goalie. But that’s all you can do as a goalie, you have to respect coach’s decision and just stick with it.

HF: You have played with Patrick Ehelechner as your understudy on various German national teams, how would you describe Patrick?

DP: Patrick is a really funny guy. I was rooming with him at preseason camps, at Shark camps. I always had a great time with him, in the room. On the ice, a very talented guy I think. I think he can be a really good goalie. He has the talent, he just has to work hard and he’ll be successful I think.

HF: You’re technically an “Aussiedler,” being born in Kazakhstan, how was it your parents ended up in Kazakhstan and then came back and how old you were?

DP: I really was in Kazakhstan until the age of 13. Hockey-wise, it was very good for me. In the old Soviet school we would twice practice a day and every day we had the sport school, so the whole team went together to the same class, and we had two hours of school in the morning, then we went to practice, then we went back to school, eat, then school, then back to practice, the same schedule all year. When I came over to Germany, it was a different time. You had to do more stuff by yourself. We had been together with the team all of the time in Kazakhstan, like anywhere, off the ice, on the ice. In Germany, you kind of were by yourself and had to figure out what do you need to improve yourself better. If you have all of this free space, free time, nobody pressures you, you have to discipline yourself. That’s the most problem for the Russians who grow up in the Soviet times.

HF: Any Kazakhs then that you played with then playing for the national team now?

DP: Actually, Alexander Perezhogin from Montreal, I played until the age of 13 with him together on the same team. He went for Russian citizenship, so he played for Team Russia in the Germany. There are a couple more guys, but they didn’t make it over here, so they play in the Russian league.

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