Patience should come easy to goalies. They have to wait for the game to come to them.
The game is coming to Albany Devils goalie Scott Wedgewood, after a long wait. The 23-year-old was on the shelf for the first two months of his fourth season after a preseason high-ankle sprain. He made his season debut with Albany on Dec. 11, and is 4-1-0 since, riding a three-game winning streak.
After Wednesday’s practice, he said he probably could have played after about a month of rehab, but would have been limited.
“Week 5, I could have been a player,” Wedgewood said. “But once you went down, you have all that flexion in your ankle, so in the butterfly, I could get up with my left leg, which I got hurt on, but if I got up with my right, the ankle would take all the force to lean into it, and that would wrench around the top of the ankle going into the shin. That was the biggest problem. Then, obviously, post plays, where you’re jamming yourself into a post or getting your blocker-side knee down, that ankle’s on full flexion.”
He and Yann Danis are now a two-goalie rotation, with Albany Devils coach Rick Kowalsky confident throwing either of them into the fray any given night.
Tonight, that fray involves the Syracuse Crunch at Times Union Center at 7. Albany also hosts Lehigh Valley on Saturday at 5 p.m., then travels to play at Hartford on Sunday at 3 p.m.
Wedgewood said that a couple times during his rehab he experimented with different ways of strapping on his skate, tight or loose, to reduce that flexion, but he and goalie development coach Scott Clemmensen decided to avoid changing his gear to suit his ankle, opting to wait on the ankle to suit the gear again.
The patience has paid off, as Wedgewood has a 1.87 goals-against average and .926 save percentage.
He won in his return, then had a rough start against St. John’s — allowing three goals in 8:29 and getting pulled. Danis started the Devils’ next game, at Rochester, and was lifted at the first intermission after allowing four goals, and Wedgewood stopped the 12 shots he faced over the final 40 minutes.
Through those 40 minutes, plus Wedgewood’s next three starts, he has a GAA of 1.36 and save percentage of .949. In just the three starts, all wins, he has a 1.67 GAA and .942 save percentage.
Danis — who is 15-5-3 this season with four shutouts, a 2.01 GAA and .919 save percentage — is in his 12th pro season. The 34-year-old has dealt with knee injuries and hip problems, which, like Wedgewood’s ankle injury, limit crucial mobility for a goalie.
“The biggest thing for me is it’s always in the back of your mind; you’re always conscious of it,” Danis said. “Then when you’re playing, you’re not reacting the way you should. You’re always thinking, ‘Oh, maybe I should do this differently.’
“It’s a matter of reps, and making a conscious effort of, ‘Hey, it’s not hurting you anymore.’ You can’t control if it’s going to happen again in the future or not. Certain movements that I know used to bother me, I would just focus on making that movement. It’s just reps.”
Before making his return to the AHL ice, Wedgewood got some reps in the ECHL with the Adirondack Thunder in Glens Falls. The Brampton, Ontario, native made 39 saves in a 5-2 win over the Brampton Beast on Dec. 4.
“You always worry about guys being a little bit rusty,” Kowalsky said. “We were able to get him a game in Glens Falls, which I think was really beneficial, then slowly ease him into the rotation.”
Again, patience paid off.
If Wedgewood came back before he was ready, physically and mentally, he may have let some things go that he shouldn’t, let some rebounds go instead of confidently pushing back across the crease, and that rush to get back on the ice could have set him back as a professional.
“The main thing was being able to play without thinking about it,” Wedgewood said. “That’s the one thing we had to wait on. I could go into practice and make saves, I can go down, but I’m not going to recover on any rebounds to my left, because I’d be pushing with that leg. Then he said, ‘Then there’s no point in you going out there, because we want you to play and create habits of where it’s a shot-rebound-you move.’ We didn’t want to let certain rebounds go, because that would create bad habits.”
Now having two goalies who are performing well, in front of whom the Devils are playing with confidence, Albany is in good shape approaching the season’s halfway mark.
Danis said he will find ways of maintaining his momentum through hard work in practice, and that having Wedgewood back — even though it will cut into his playing time — is good for the team.
“Obviously, I’m better than he is,” Danis joked loudly as Wedgewood walked past after practice.
“He’s a good goalie, and he’s been playing well the last few games,” he said after Wedgewood disappeared into the locker room. “There’s nothing wrong with some healthy competition. It’s only positive for the team.”