Aces goalie has a style all his own

Rookie knows only thing that matters is making saves

Anchorage Daily NewsMarch 20, 2012 

Alaska goaltender James Reid knocks aside a Colorado scoring attempt during first-period action March 9 at Sullivan Arena. Reid is 5-1-1 for the Aces with a 1.56 goals-against average and .931 save percentage.

ERIK HILL / ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS Buy Photo

James Reid's a hard kid to pigeonhole.

He's not the prototypical butterfly goalie of hockey's modern age -- those guys are ubiquitous.

He's not an old-school, stand-up goaltender -- those dudes are dinosaurs.

So that puts the Alaska Aces rookie, who doesn't so much stop the puck as repel it and is the ECHL's Goaltender of the Week, in some kind of undefined demographic when it comes to style.

"Does he have a style?'' mused Aces veteran defenseman Bryan Miller. "I don't think so. You'd have to ask him. Doesn't matter. The puck's not in the back of the net.''

Even Reid admits he's a hard guy to pin down on the style front.

Butterfly goalies -- and it seems practically all masked men adhere to that style these days -- drop to their knees and splay their legs to take away the bottom part of the net. That's usually the M.O. of tall guys, like erstwhile Aces Gerald Coleman (6-foot-5) and Adam Courchaine (6-3), who have frames long enough to cover much of the top half of the net. Stand-up goalies, meanwhile, are so 1980 they are practically extinct.

Reid is listed at 6-0, but cops to 5-foot-11, so he doesn't go full-time butterfly because it leaves too much open net above his shoulders. Being a standup goalie against modern sharp-shooters, who can pick low corners in their sleep, is a good way to end up with a regular day job and a twice-a-weeknight gig in the beer league. What Reid presents is a hybrid style of sorts -- a slice of butterfly and a whole lot of scrambling and battling, including the occasional diving save and lunging poke-check.

He might be the goalie to literally stand on his head.

"I think I have some positioning in my game,'' Reid said with a laugh. "And I mix in the odd, weird thing. I just do whatever I can to try to stop the puck.''

So far, so good -- Reid is 5-1-1 for the Aces with a 1.56 goals-against average and .931 save percentage.

That's been a boost for the league leaders. They've been without Coleman, the reigning ECHL Goaltender of the Year who backstopped them to the Kelly Cup last spring, for more than two months since his loan to Lake Erie of the American Hockey League. And they've been without their No. 2, Courchaine, for nearly a month since the Boston Bruins recalled him to AHL Providence.

"This last month could have been a real stumbling block if (Reid) hadn't come in and played like he has,'' said Aces coach Rob Murray. "It's been welcome. In James Reid, we've found a good goalie this year, and maybe for next year.''

The comparison Reid, 21, most often hears is with Stanley Cup-winning Bruins goalie Tim Thomas -- they both have red hair, a beard and out-of-the-mainstream styles.

"Very unorthodox,'' Murray said. "Look at the way Tim Thomas plays -- he's all over the place. Reid is really sound on the first shot, and then he scrambles on the second shot. He's what he was advertised to be -- he really competes and plays his ass off.''

Not bad for a guy who seven months ago figured March 2012 would find him studying education and playing some hockey at the University of Lethbridge in his native Alberta.

Last August, after three seasons with the Spokane Chiefs of the major-junior Western Hockey League, Reid did not have any pro offers and figured he would make good use of the WHL education program that earns players financial aid for college. He committed to play for the Lethbridge Pronghorns, knowing Canadian college hockey is almost always the end of the line for players with pro ambitions.

"I was pretty much done,'' Reid said. "I think I was going to be the backup in Lethbridge. I was even looking at houses to live in. Now, I'm in Alaska.''

Reid initially signed with the Allen (Texas) Americans of the Central Hockey League after the club was tipped off about Reid's availability by its equipment manager Kacee Coberly, who had held the same job with the Chiefs. Allen has an affiliation agreement with Lake Erie, and when projected starter Cedrick Desjardins was still recovering from off-season shoulder surgery, the Monsters signed Reid before the season began.

But he was in a three-man goaltending crew -- rookie Trevor Cann completed the trio -- and usually the odd-man out. That continued with Coleman's arrival in Lake Erie, which came when both Desjardins and Cann were injured.

"I guess bad timing for me,'' Reid said.

Reid made just five appearances with Lake Erie, four of them in relief.

"I thought I was going there for a week,'' Reid said. "I ended up there five months.''

He also had three starts in Allen. In all, he played just 348 minutes, the equivalent of slightly less than six regulation games, for the Monsters and Americans. That was remarkably light duty for a guy who played in 110 games his last two seasons with Spokane and went 75-23-8.

Last month, though, with Desjardins healthy and Coleman excelling, Lake Erie assigned him to the Aces.

"I was excited,'' Reid said. "The GM in Lake Erie, David Oliver, said, 'You're not going to get any better practicing. You need to play games.' ''

Reid has served the Aces well, and he has been a good fit in the dressing room too.

"He's come in with an unbelievable attitude,'' Miller said. "He's a super happy-go-lucky kid. He's always smiling. He's a battler for sure. He doesn't give up on any shot.''

And though the Aces don't permit opponents many shots -- a league-low 25.68 per game -- Reid does take some extra shots from opponents running their mouths about his body. Put it this way: Reid is not blessed with a particularly ripped frame.

Stretching at center ice before his first Aces game, in Stockton, Calif., Reid said Thunder enforcer and noted trash-talker Garet Hunt stopped by to size him up and give him the business. Reid said he's heard it all before, so he was fine.

"I get chirped a little bit from other teams, but it doesn't faze me,'' he said.

Though Reid is the Aces' top goalie at the moment, he knows that could change if Coleman or Courchaine, or both, return. He's happy to keep carving out a spot for himself on the club.

"I try not to think about it,'' Reid said. "I just do what I can to stay here.''

And even when his season's over, Reid won't be done scrambling. In his wild rookie season, which has taken him to three teams in three states and three leagues, he's got clothes and personal belongings at three different apartments. All of that will have to be retrieved.

"It's going to be a disaster,'' Reid laughed. "I going to have to make a vacation out of picking up my stuff.''

Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.

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