Union freshman goalie Alex Sakellaropoulos was thrown into a tough situation in October when junior netminder Colin Stevens was injured midway through the first period of the Dutchmen’s season-opener against Bowling Green.
Although he played well in spurts, Sakellaropoulos allowed 16 goals in the five games he played, and the Dutchmen went 1-2-2.
“Coming into those games, I was totally nervous,” Sakellaropoulos said. “I had to step in and do my job, but I was totally scared. There were a lot of nerves out there.”
Since then, Sakellaropoulos has worked on his game in practice. And when he’s been given the opportunity to play, he’s been outstanding.
Sakellaropoulos stopped 26 shots in his first ECAC Hockey start of his career on Saturday, leading the Cleary Cup-champion and third-ranked Dutchmen to a 3-0 victory over Brown at Meehan Auditorium.
It was Sakellaropoulos’ first collegiate shutout.
“It feels great,” said Sakellaropoulos, who came to Union from the U.S. Hockey League’s Chicago Steel. “The guys in front of me made it pretty easy for me. I just had to make a few saves.”
His biggest save came in the first period, when he stopped Matt Lorito on a breakaway to keep the game scoreless.
“The guy made a great play,” Sakellaropoulos said. “He came down, and he fumbled it at the end. He just caught me on the toe.”
It was a save that Sakellaropoulos may not have made earlier in the season. But Union coach Rick Bennett noted that Sakellaropoulos has shown marked improvement in his play in practice.
“What he was thrust into wasn’t the easiest situation to get thrust into,” Bennett said. “At that time, too, we had a few bodies out. That compounded the issue, as well. And we were trying to figure out our systems. You can go on and on.
“He’s watched Colin’s work ethic, and he’s really been willing to get better with [assistant] coach [Jason] Tapp. I just think a guy will get better if he’s willing to work.”
After Stevens stopped a career-high 49 shots in Friday’s 2-0 win at Yale and having to play Brown in a late-afternoon game Saturday, Bennett consulted with Tapp and assistant coach Joe Dumais about giving Stevens the game off and inserting Sakellaropoulos as the starter.
“He made the staff look good,” Bennett said.
Sakellaropoulos, who is 4-2-2 with a 2.40 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage, has only appeared in three games since October. But they have been memorable ones.
Besides the Brown game, Sakellaropoulos replaced Stevens in the Dec. 1 game at Penn State with Union down, 4-1, with 8:17 left in the second period. Sakellaropoulos stopped all 11 shots he faced, and the Dutchmen rallied for a 5-4 win.
Twelve days later, Sakellaropoulos was the starter for the first of a two-game series at top-ranked St. Cloud State. All Sakellaropoulos was make 34 saves to lead the Dutchmen to a 4-1 win.
“I’m a lot more calm in the net,” Sakellaropoulos said. “College hockey is basically crashing the net. You’ve got to know your angles and your depth. You’ve just got to be patient and follow the puck all the way.”
Sakellaropoulos’ teammates have taken notice of his work ethic and improved play.
“We see it every day in practice,” Union senior left winger Daniel Carr said. “We feel we have the best goalies in the nation. They both proved it this weekend.”