Freshman goalie Anthony Stolarz, a second-round draft choice of the Philadelphia Flyers and one of the jewels in UNO's most recent recruiting class, has left the program to turn professional.
Stolarz surprised UNO coach Dean Blais before Monday's practice by telling him that he was leaving for the London Knights of the major-junior Ontario Hockey League.
In preseason media interviews, Stolarz indicated he was prepared to play four seasons at UNO.
“I always tell my guys if they have anything on their mind, don't hold it in, come talk to me or one of the other coaches instead of harboring feelings that aren't healthy,” Blais said. “I didn't see it coming, to be honest.”
Stolarz was 2-5 with a 2.56 goals-against average and an .898 save percentage while serving primarily as the backup to senior John Faulkner, who is 11-3-1 with a 2.63 GAA and .900 save percentage.
Blais said he was pleased with the progress of the 6-foot-6, 220-pound, 18-year-old from Jackson, N.J.
“It's not unusual for a freshman to be in and out of the lineup at any position, regardless of talent level and draft status,” Blais said. “He played in seven games and played fairly well, obviously, but I guess he expected to play a little bit more.”
Blais said he met with players individually Monday before practice, and at that point Stolarz said he was leaving. Stolarz also said goodbye to the team before departing, Blais said.
Attempts to contact Stolarz later Monday were unsuccessful.
Besides Faulkner, sophomore Dayn Belfour is the only other goalie on the roster. Belfour, who hasn't appeared in a game this season, was 2-1-2 with a 2.55 GAA and .902 save percentage in six games last season.
Blais said he was looking into options to add another goalie. When asked, Blais acknowledged that Ryan Massa was a possibility, but details about his eligibility are unclear.
Massa was 7-8-2 with a 2.60 GAA and .914 save percentage while leading UNO in goalie minutes last year. Massa announced over the summer he was sitting out this season and planned to return in 2013-14.
Stolarz was the Saturday night starter in each of UNO's first three weekends of the season, suffering one-goal losses to Notre Dame (3-2), Northern Michigan (2-1) and Bemidji State (3-2). He didn't play again until Nov. 24, when he shut out Alabama-Huntsville in an 8-0 victory.
He looked sharp in his next game, a 2-1 loss at St. Cloud State when he posted 26 saves, then relieved Faulkner in the second period of a 6-3 loss to Minnesota State-Mankato on Dec. 14. He got the start the following night and ended Minnesota State's seven-game winning streak in a 5-1 win in which he had 27 saves.
After the Christmas break, he started a series opener for the first time Dec. 29 at Quinnipiac, but suffered a 5-4 loss. Faulkner started the following night and then again for both games of UNO's sweep of Colorado College this past weekend.
Six of the eight games Stolarz appeared in were against nationally ranked opponents.
Blais said he thought perhaps Stolarz was disappointed that he didn't start Saturday's 3-1 win over Colorado College. UNO moved into first place in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association after that victory behind Faulkner, who has the third-best winning percentage (.767) in the country.
“It was one of our most important games of the season, based on a lot of things, and I'm going to play our senior goaltender,” Blais said. “I think it was right move. I don't regret that decision.
“I wouldn't change anything right now. And even though Anthony was only 2-5, I thought he made the best of his opportunities and did OK. He was improving as a freshman goaltender right out of the NAHL who played well as was drafted. Now he wants to move on.”
Stolarz went from being cut by a Tier III junior team to being a second-round draft pick in the course of one year. His meteoric rise came after catching on with Corpus Christi of the Tier II North American Hockey League in a tryout, and then posting a 2.84 GAA and .920 save percentage and impressing scouts with his combination of size, athleticism and potential.
He's the fourth player expected to be on the current UNO team to have turned professional in 10 months, following forwards Terry and Alex Broadhurst and Jayson Megna.
“He's an excellent student who could've gone to any Ivy League school, but he chose us because he liked the school and the staff here,” Blais said. “He was doing quite well in our minds.”
Walters nominated for Hobey Baker Award
UNO forward Ryan Walters is one of 77 players nominated for the Hobey Baker Award, given each year to the top player in Division I college hockey.
Fan voting opened Monday at the award's official website, hobeybakeraward.com, and will remain open until March 10. Ten finalists will be determined for the second phase of voting, which begins March 22. Fan voting accounts for one percent of the total ballot in each phase.
Walters, a junior from Rosemount, Minn., leads the country with 13 goals and 33 points. His points per game average ranks fourth nationally. He has scored points in six consecutive games (five goals, four assists) and in 14 of his last 15 games (13-17-30).
UNO's hasn't had a Hobey Baker finalist since Scott Parse in 2006-07.
Mavericks make jump in national ratings
After the sweep of Colorado College that moved UNO into first place in the WCHA, the Mavericks jumped to No. 13 in national ratings by both USA Today/USA Hockey and USCHO.com. UNO had been ranked 15th and 16th, respectively.
UNO (13-8-1, 9-4-1 WCHA) hits the road for a difficult series this weekend against Nos. 9 and 11 Denver (12-6-3, 7-4-3). The Pioneers were ranked as high as No. 2 earlier this season.
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