Anthony Stolarz had a 2.29 goals-against average and .920 save percentage in 20 games last season for the OHL Knights. (Zack Hill)
VOORHEES, N.J. -- It had been a crazy couple of years for Anthony Stolarz.
Two seasons ago, the now-19-year-old goalie barely made it onto the roster of the NAHL’s Corpus Christi IceRays. His family had to drive from their home in Jackson, N.J., to New York before flying to Dallas where Stolarz eventually made the team.
The following year, he made plans to attend and play for the University of Nebraska Omaha, but after a while of riding the bench, an opportunity arose in London, Ontario, to join the OHL’s Knights.
So, once again, Stolarz hustled to a new city.
Now, finally, he knows exactly where he fits in, and he’s free to focus solely on his development.
“It’s finally nice to be settled in and know where I’m going to be this year,” Stolarz said. “Being settled in, it’s going to be a benefit for me. I’m not going to have to think too much about anything or make any difficult decisions.
“I’ll be in one place all year, so that’s something that will be a change for me -- and it will be very nice.”
The towering netminder (he’s 6-foot-6) will return to London this fall and rejoin the defending OHL-champion Knights, where he finished his first season with a 2.29 goals-against average and .920 save percentage in 20 games.
And when he arrives, he said, he’ll be an even stronger player than he was at this time last year.
“I think my patience is something I’ve worked on,” he said. “Rebound control. Those are two things that I worked on with [goalie coach] Jeff Reese this week, and I think from Day 1 when I was here at development camp last year 'til now, it’s tremendously improved.”
That improvement was absolutely on display Monday, when Stolarz teamed up with fellow Flyers goalie prospect Carsen Chubak to help the Flyers' rookies shut out the Washington Capitals' rookies, 1-0, in the teams' annual rookie game.
Stolarz’s family still resides in Jackson, and the ability to spend the summer at home meant he was a mere 45 minutes away from Skate Zone. That proximity allowed Stolarz to work out at the Flyers’ practice facility five days a week and spend time around players like Marc-Andre Bourdon, Nick Cousins, Derek Mathers and Mark Alt, who were also in town.
Talking to players who have been around the organization and have played at the pro level taught him a lot, Stolarz said. But there are still elements of his game that need improvement.
“Definitely just foot speed and beating the pass,” he said. “A big thing we’re working on this week is getting across [the crease] and getting hard pushes and moving around the crease. You look at the guys out here, and it’s definitely a lot faster than what I’m used to.
"For me, it’s just getting used to that pace and making myself quicker during the season and the offseason, to be able to compete at this level.”
When the Flyers drafted Stolarz in 2012 in the second round (45th overall), he was a confident, aggressive 18-year-old. His attitude showed even in his draft interview, when he joked with reporters and was hardly shy like draftees often are. That mindset, too, has improved, Stolarz said.
“In terms of the aggressiveness, I think I’ve calmed down a little bit,” he said. “I’m not as all over the place. A big thing with coach Reese, he’s wanted me to simplify my game and stay back a little more and let the game come to me, and I think I’ve definitely seen improvement with that.”
That said, Stolarz is still confident. He's aware of the pressure he faces, considering where the Flyers selected him, and his eyes are still on the ultimate goalie prize.
“Going in as a second-round pick, I feel that I want to live up to expectations,” he said. “I want to come to Philadelphia and be the No. 1 guy, be the guy.”