Gulls Top Performers: Anthony StolarzNov 18, 2020
By Joe Spurrier/SanDiegoGulls.com
It took just one season for Anthony Stolarz to establish himself as one of the Gulls' top performers.
Signed by Anaheim to a two-year contract on July 3, 2019 - the first day of the 2019 free agency period - Stolarz spent the majority of the past season with San Diego, where he posted one of the best years of his young career. In his sixth professional season, he proved a fantastic offseason signing, earning a 21-12-6 record with a 2.66 goals against average (GAA) and .922 save percentage (SV%) in 39 AHL appearances.
The 26-year-old netminder set career highs in goals-against average and save percentage, and tied a career high in wins. It didn’t take long before Stolarz earned the reputation as one of the best goaltenders in the American Hockey League.
The season didn't start as anticipated, for Stolarz or the team. In his first four appearances, he failed to secure a win. Fortunately for the Gulls, that narrative turned on the first day of November against the Colorado Eagles, when Stolarz made 30 saves to secure his first win. He went on to post an 8-1-1 record in the month, including a career-high seven-game win streak from Nov. 1-16, 2019 in which he posted a 2.43 GAA and .921 SV%.
Game after game, Stolarz made his name known around the AHL, leading league goaltenders in saves (1,211), ranking tied for third in wins, fourth in minutes (2,321), fifth in games played and sixth in SV%.
The 6-6, 230-pound netminder didn’t just prevent goals; he helped generate them. With an active stick and a great outlet pass, Stolarz recorded a career best four assists, leading all goaltenders and setting the Gulls all-time record for assists by a goaltender.
“I’m a big puck handler so I like to play the puck and sometimes it doesn’t go my way, but more times than not, it’s on our guys stick, making a good play,” said Stolarz regarding his ability to make plays with the puck. “I think it’s something that, as a goalie, is a huge asset. The guys do a great of communicating to me back there so it makes my job a lot easier.”
His dominant first half earned Stolarz a place at the 2020 AHL All-Star Classic , where he split goaltending duties with Ontario's Cal Petersen. He joined Kevin Boyle as just the second San Diego goaltender to participate in the annual showcase. After shining during the league's All-Star Skills Competition, Stolarz brought the fans to their feet with his 2020 AHL All-Star Classic performance. Featuring pad-stacking stops and incredible glove saves, Stolarz helped guide the Pacific Division to a 2-1 record.
If the Pacific won their final game, Stolarz likely would have taken home the Most Valuable Player Award following the event.
Coming out of the All-Star break, Stolarz didn’t lose a step in his game. The goaltender strung five consecutive wins while posting a 2.20 GAA and .943 SV% for his second noteworthy win streak of the season.
“He’s an unbelievable goalie, probably one of the best in the league,” said veteran forward Chris Mueller during Stolarz’s five-game win streak. “That’s why he made the All-Star Game and that’s why he’s scratching the surface of the NHL. He’ll get his time if he just keeps giving us chances to win. That’s all you can ask for from him.”
On Feb. 29, the Anaheim Ducks recalled Stolarz from San Diego. He served as the backup goaltender for a number of games before he got the nod to start on Mar. 11 vs. St. Louis.
Earning the opportunity with his tremendous play in San Diego, the former second-round pick made his debut with Ducks, playing with his third NHL team (Philadelphia Flyers, Edmonton Oilers). Stolarz stopped 34-of-36 shots for a .944 SV% and 2.04 GAA in his first appearance as a Duck.
The game marked the final contest of the 2019-20 season as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down both the NHL and AHL on Mar. 12.
“It's always fun to play in the NHL,” said Stolarz after his Ducks debut. “You get sent down at the beginning of the year and you want to prove you belong in the NHL. That's what I've been trying to do in San Diego. Just continue to work hard and wait for an opportunity. When you get it, make the most of it.”
Stolarz enters the 2020-21 season with one year remaining on his contract. Anaheim has not signed a goaltender this offseason after Ryan Miller became a free agent in October. After an impressive first season in the organization, Stolarz may be afforded an opportunity to earn a full-time spot with the NHL club as the upcoming season approaches.