📝 by Patrick Williams
Like many experienced goaltenders in the American Hockey League, Alexander Lyons understands its mandate.
Providing stability in the net for the Chicago Wolves. Be a reliable recall option for the Carolina Hurricanes. Mentor and nudge the rising prospect, someone like Piotr Kochetkovthe goalkeeper who could possibly take up some of your playing time.
Experience can guide young people. But this youngster also has some lessons to teach the veteran goalkeeper, and that’s what happened this season with Wolves.
In his first season as a member of the Hurricanes organization, the 29-year-old Lyon ticked each of those boxes. He can continue to do so as the Calder Cup Finals continue with three games in Springfield, starting with tonight’s Game 3 (7 ET/6 CT, AHLTV).
In Carolina, Lyon provided taxi brigade service during part of the mid-season COVID-19 surge. But guardian Antti Raanta had just left the Carolina roster with an upper-body injury ahead of a Jan. 8 game with the Florida Panthers. Eetu Makiniemi was injured in Chicago. Kochetkov was still playing in Russia, and Jack Lafontaine was still unsigned and was playing at the University of Minnesota.
Carolina needed a choke to spell Frederic Andersen, who had played the day before, and it was Lyon. He stepped in, stopped 32 Florida shots and was named the third star of the game in a 4-3 overtime loss at Raleigh.
Signing with the Hurricanes last July gave him the boost his career needed after five seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers, Lyon said. After all, he still has his own NHL goals.
“It’s been huge for me,” Lyon said. “Obviously everyone wants to make $10 million, be the best goalie or the best player they can be, whatever. But I needed a fresh start. Carolina is a great place. I cannot thank the organization enough. They’ve been great with me so far.
Back with Wolves, Lyon have been a reliable presence throughout the season. In a regular season where eight different goaltenders played for Chicago, Lyon led the team with 30 appearances, 18 wins and three shutouts, and finished second in the entire league with a 2 goals-against average. ,16. He won the Harry “Hap” Holmes Memorial Award as Wolves finished with a minimum of 2.55 goals against per game.
With Kochetkov recalled to Carolina for the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Lyon handled the entire workload of Wolves’ Calder Cup series against Rockford and Milwaukee. But since the start of the Western Conference Finals, the head coach Ryan Warsofsky alternated between his two goaltenders, who have a combined .922 save percentage in the playoffs.
Finally, there is the mentoring component of the Lyon job description. At different times, Lyon was part of a group with Kochetkov, LaFontaine, Makiniemi and Dylan Wellseach of them being young goalkeepers who showed promise at different times.
Kochetkov, who turns 23 on Saturday, is a 2019 second-round pick by the Hurricanes who could be that club’s future number one goaltender. After arriving from the KHL in February, Kochetkov went 13-1-1 in 15 regular season games for Wolves, posting a 2.09 GAA and .921 save percentage while being named a rookie. of the month in the AHL in March. Kochetkov did the same in the Calder Cup playoffs, going 3-1 (1.96, .936) in his four starts, including his first North American shutout.
Despite the short time together, a language barrier, and the inherent competition for playing time between them, Lyon and Kochetkov forged a quick relationship with Chicago. Both goaltenders have a visible fire in their on-ice personalities, to begin with.
“I like it,” Lyon said. “I like having Piotr around. I’m excited when I’m surrounded by very detailed and high performing goalkeepers. It just forces me to be better. I really welcome his presence.
“He’s a great teaching point for me, to be perfectly honest. He’s an exceptional goalkeeper and he has a very bright future, so I feel like I can learn a lot from him, and I hope it’s a two-way street.
“Hopefully we can lift each other up as a goalkeeping tandem. In the end, all you can ask for is that the two Guardians have a good relationship and lift each other up. I think we do that. It’s good to have this kind of person in the locker room.
But a deeper discussion about goalkeepers is where Lyon can really open up, come alive and provide deeper insight into the mindset the job demands at this level.
“It’s a bit much,” Lyon explained, “but everyone has their own style, their own way of stopping the puck in their own specific skill set. Goaltending, for me, is not necessarily a carbon copy ― “I have to” ― if that makes sense. [Kochetkov] does things in a certain specific way that you don’t see a lot of 22-year-old goalkeepers do.
“For me, seeing NHL goaltenders and seeing them in person is like winning gold. Because it gives me clarity on what I need to work on and what level I need to be on a daily basis to get to the next level. So when I see Pyotr, it’s like, ‘This guy has an extremely bright future in the NHL. He is a very good goalkeeper. And that gives me clarity.
As a sixth-year professional, Lyon had their share of high-caliber goalkeepers.
“That’s one thing I’ve found consistent with really good NHL and AHL goaltenders: their ability to stay calm under pressure. Their ability to focus on a daily basis, the details they put into their game, habits off the ice… These are the things that make goalkeepers and players successful.
“Pyotr does all of these things in spades.”
Patrick Williams has been on the American Hockey League beat for nearly two decades for outlets including NHL.com, Sportsnet, TSN, The Hockey News, SiriusXM NHL Network Radio and SLAM! Sports. He is currently co-host of the podcast Around the A.
Patrick received the AHL’s James H. Ellery Memorial Award for Outstanding League Coverage in 2016.