2006 prospects: Q&A with Alex Kangas

By Kevin Wey

Eighteen months ago, goaltender Alex Kangas hadn’t even spoken to a junior A scout. Now, he’s the highest ranked USHL goaltender heading into the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

The 18-year-old Kangas was named to the 2006 USHL All-Rookie Team after compiling a 20-6-3 record for Sioux Falls and helping lead the Stampede to the USHL’s Anderson Cup, awarded to the USHL team with the best record during the regular season. Kangas started his USHL career with 12 wins in his first 12 starts and established himself as a viable option to platoon with second-year USHL netminder John Murray.

The USHL named Kangas the Defensive Player of the Week Nov. 7 after making 34 saves in regulation and stopping 4 of 5 shootout shots in a 2-1 shootout victory over the Indiana Ice Nov. 4. Kangas again won the Defensive Player of the Week award Dec. 19 after making 63 saves on 64 shots between a 1-0 shutout victory over Des Moines Dec. 15 and a 4-1 victory over the Omaha Lancers Dec.18. Goalies World Magazine named Kangas the USHL Goalie of the Month for December after he went 5-0 and posted a .969 save percentage and a 1.00 goals-against average for the month. The accolades continued when Kangas was named to Team West for the USHL Prospects/All-Star Game, joining Murray to complete the Western Conference’s effort in net at the All-Star Game.

The Rochester, Minnesota native’s name hit the prospect radar screen at the 2005 Minnesota State Tournament when he made 50 saves against White Bear Lake, setting a new tournament record. Unfortunately for Kangas, the record came in a 2-1 loss. The Rochester Century goalie was only six saves shy of the record in the Panthers previous game, a 42-save, 3-0 loss to Moorhead. Although Kangas failed to earn a win in the State Tournament, he was still named to the All-Tournament Team. Kangas was also named to the Big Nine All-Conference Team, the third time he had earned the honor, based on his 23-4-1 record, a .937 save percentage, and a 1.86 goals-against average.

Despite losing both games in the State Tournament, Kangas finished 2004-05 on a winning note. Selected by head coach Kevin Hartzell to play at the Chicago Showcase, Kangas led Minnesota in net to win the prestigious high school tournament. When the Stampede named Hartzell as their head coach, Sioux Falls’ new coach selected Kangas with the third overall pick in the USHL Entry Draft, having seen in Chicago what he can do. Kangas also happened to set his Minnesota State Tournament saves record against Hartzell’s son, Eric, goaltender for White Bear Lake.

One of the top goaltenders in the USHL, Kangas is a technical goaltender who does not make unnecessary movements. Kangas makes most saves look easy by maintaining his angles and by using his hockey sense to read the play and predict with uncanny accuracy where the play is going. Not only does Kangas seem like Nostradamus in net, he further reduces his workload by controlling rebounds by quickly covering them or kicking them to the corners. The 6’2, 180-pound Kangas not only stays square and reduces his angles well, his size makes it that much more difficult for opponents to score. Despite being a tall goaltender, Kangas has a low stance that he can lower even further to see through traffic. When Kangas is in this stance, he is generally perfectly square to the shooter and ready for the shot. Shooters might be wise to pass when Kangas is in his stance, but he also has the athleticism to make cross-crease saves.

However, to take his game to the next level, Kangas must improve his lateral movement to the level of fellow USHL goaltender, and Florida Panthers draft pick, Brian Foster. Kangas must also improve his puckhandling in order to become the total package in net, but his hockey sense makes him fairly effective in moving the puck in that he rarely makes poor plays.

Because Kangas has one year of USHL hockey and then up to four years of college hockey to further improve on these areas, none of which can truly be termed weaknesses, one of the 30 NHL clubs is likely to take him in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. Ranked by Central Scouting Service 10th among all North American draft-eligible goaltenders, tops among all USHL netminders, Kangas should follow in the footsteps of San Jose Sharks 2005 fourth round pick Alex Stalock and become the next netminder drafted out of the USHL.

Hockey’s Future recently caught up with Kangas and discussed his superb USHL rookie season, his past in Minnesota high school hockey, and his future with the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

HF: You were named to the USHL All-Rookie team come out of Minnesota high school hockey, how big of a jump was it from Minnesota high school to the USHL?

AK: It was a big jump. Obviously, everyone is bigger, faster, and stronger. But, during the summer I skated with some pro guys, so it kind of got me ready for it. The team played good early in the season and helped me along and I got a few “W’s” and a lot of confidence and it’s just gone from there.

HF: You started the season with wins in your first 12 starts, what were the keys to that initial success?

AK: I think, defensively, we were unbelievable, limiting all the shots to the perimeter, and not a lot of point blank shots. Our offense got timely scoring and I just did my job and it ended up that I won 12 straight right away and that’s how it is.

HF: Where did you skate last summer?

AK: In the Twin Cities. Some pro guys got together, so our coach called me up and asked me if I was interested, so I skated with them the last three or four weeks of the summer and came down here ready to go.

HF: After the 12 wins you went 8-6-3, did anything change at all?

AK: No, I just think that we were so good early on, it was just hard to duplicate. People call it a slump, but we didn’t slump, because we were still winning most of our games. I just think that other teams knew how to defend us after a while and, you know, you can’t win all of the time.

HF: What was it like platooning with John Murray after being the man at Rochester Century for so long?

AK: You know, obviously, every goalie wants to play every game. So, that’s your goal, and if you’re not, it’s kind of in the back of your mind that you want to. You can’t fault him for playing well all year. I just had to prove my worth to coach to keep putting me back in and I thank him for that, for the opportunity. I’ve just been trying to play my best.

HF: You made the state tournament last year, how big of a dream come true was that and what was setting that 50-save record like?

AK: Growing up in Minnesota, that’s every kid’s dream, to play in the State Tournament. You’re in the Xcel Energy Center and there’s 18,000 people, and you skate on the ice and you’re like, “no way.” I’d been to section finals the last three years and lost, so to finally go there my senior year was unbelievable. We ended up losing our first game to Moorhead and then we played White Bear Lake, and Kevin Hartzell’s kid was actually the goalie for that team. So, ironically, that’s where I had my record of 50 saves, and we still ended up losing the game, so I wasn’t too happy. But, I just did my job like I was supposed to.

HF: You did end last season on an up-note though, you won the Chicago Showcase with Team Minnesota. How did that hockey compare to what you had been playing in high school?

AK: Well, there’s a Great 8 tournament where all the seniors play, and they pick a team out of that to go to Chicago. Hartzell was the coach of that team too, ironically, before he got the Sioux Falls job. We won the tournament. We pretty much dominated and smoked most of the teams, which usually is a recurring theme in that tournament for Minnesota. So, Hartzell saw me play and he ended up drafting me, so I got the opportunity to play here.

HF: You seem to be in the midst of a career that most Minnesota kids would dream of, but was playing in the USHL always a part of your career plan?

AK: You know, I had always wanted to play in the USHL. I actually hadn’t talked to any junior A scouts until the state tournament. After that was over and after I got home from Chicago, and I went to a prospects tournament in Toronto, Coach Hartzell called me, the other coaches called me, so that was the plan. I got lucky, I guess you could say, and he ended up seeing me and drafting me in the first round.

HF: Almost no goalies go directly from high school hockey to NCAA DI hockey, how important has the USHL been in your development?

AK: I think it’s been a big step. The competition is great and there’s no bad players here. In high school, there’s not a lot of depth. Like I said, it was a great jump right away and playing 30 or 40 games a year doesn’t hurt either, you get a lot of experience. So, I think it’s a good step along the way. Like Coach Hartzell says, it’s another stepping stone to where I want to be.

HF: What are some of the primary things you’ve been working on in Sioux Falls this year?

AK: Just staying up when I’m supposed to, I’m not going down on every shot, staying out, playing the puck, just getting stronger in the weight room. In high school, you don’t have a lot of time to do weights. Down here, we weight lift two or three times a week, so that’s been great. That’s one of the main things I’ve been working on.

HF: What would you say are your strengths as a goalie?

AK: My defense in front of me (laughing). I just try to play the angles right, work on my mechanics, staying out, controlling rebounds, and if I can do that, then it makes defensemen’s jobs easier. So, that’s what I try to work on.

HF: You made the State Tournament, something Minnesota kids dream about, but you’re also about to fulfill another one, you’ve committed to “The U.” What made you decide to play for the Minnesota Golden Gophers in 2007?

AK: [Being] from Minnesota you watch the Gophers on TV growing up as a little kid and you just dream of wearing the big “M” on your chest. They signed a goalie before me when I was in high school that was my age that I played with in the summer. So, I didn’t really think, as a junior in high school, that’d I’d get the chance to play for the Gophers. But, I just kept working and it ended up that I came here and they were interested in me. I went to visit and I loved the school and the coaching staff and I know quite a few kids on the team already. Like I said, growing up in Minnesota, it’s a dream, so you can’t pass it up.

HF: The Golden Gophers do have Jeff Frazee, and you won’t be there next year, but do you have any concerns about going to the U of M with Frazee there?

AK: You know, he’s a great goalie. He played with the National Developmental Team and he was behind Kellen Briggs this year. I’ll be back next year and hopefully I can raise my game a few notches as well and, you know, when I go there, hopefully I’ll get my shot to play and I can prove to the coaches at Minnesota that I’m worth bringing in. We’ll just see how that goes I guess.

HF: Since you are coming back to Sioux Falls, what are your goals next season?

AK: Just become the go-to guy, hopefully play strong all year. Hopefully I can get 50 games under my belt. It’s a long season, but I’m sure it will pay off. Hopefully it can be another dream season like we had this year and hopefully win another Anderson Cup and a Clark Cup championship.

HF: Central Scouting Service has you ranked as the highest USHL goaltender entering the draft, do you ever think about that and what would it mean to you to be drafted by an NHL team?

AK: You can’t really think about it, but it’s always at the back of your mind. You’re in the locker room, you see stuff online, and you hear things through the grapevine. I’m honored that people think of me like that. To play in the NHL, who wouldn’t want to play that level of hockey? It’d be a dream come true if I got drafted and actually played in the NHL.

HF: Who were some of your favorite players growing up?

AK: Mike Modano at forward, playing for the North Stars, then the whole Dallas thing. Ehhh, a little bad blood, but not too bad. Ed Belfour, I was a big Blackhawks fan growing up, I don’t know why, but Ed Belfour was always my favorite goalie growing up. He kind of played the butterfly style and that’s how I play. So, I kind of mimic him.

HF: Who have been some of the people who have been very important in your development?

AK: I would have to say my father. Growing up, I didn’t have a goalie coach or anything. So, he volunteered time to come when I was a squirt and a pee wee and come out on the ice and shoot on me before the players did. So, I did my drills with him. I got my opportunity to play for the Minnesota Blades, which is a AAA team in the summer, and John Arko, the coach of that. I’ve been to Toronto countless times, and Vancouver, and all of these places and saw good competition. There’s just so many people who have helped me along the way that I’m thankful for, too many to name.

HF: How old were you when you started playing and how was it that you started playing?

AK: My older brother played it. I started when I was six, actually, and just started skating around in termites and super mites. Then when I was a squirt, I don’t know why, I decided to be a goalie. I think our team went 2-30 that year and I saw 60 shots a game. So, I think all of those early shots helped me along the way too.

HF: Lastly, what are your goals with hockey and how do you plan to achieve them?

AK: Like I said, it’s every kid’s goal to play in the NHL. Just working hard. Hopefully when I go to “The U” I can win a championship there, and hopefully go to the NHL and win the Stanley Cup there. You always want to win the big ones. Just work hard and hopefully get a few lucky bounces here and there and we’ll see what happens.

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.