VOORHEES, N.J. – One minute he was closing in on his life-long ambition of holding a steady goaltending position in the National Hockey League.
Seemingly the next, he was relegated to possibly as low as fifth on the Flyers’ depth chart.
Such is the sometimes unfair life of a hockey player.
Anthony Stolarz looked for all the world like a coming star two seasons back when the Flyers needed him in Philadelphia due to an injury to backup netminder Michal Neuvirth.
Stolarz dressed for a couple months of games, got into seven of them, posted a 2-1-1 record with a 2.07 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage.
Particularly impressive was a shutout win in Detroit.
But last year, things went decidedly south. He underwent surgery for a torn meniscus in September, then needed a follow-up operation which kept him out until near the end of the season.
He managed to get into just three games with the Reading Royals of the ECHL and one game with the Phantoms before the schedule expired.
In the meantime, it seems like Alex Lyon has moved past him to No. 3 on the Flyers’ goaltending depth chart and rookie Carter Hart figures to make a lot of noise, too.
All that said, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall signed the former 2012 second-round draft pick (45th overall) to a new one-year contract on July 16 and said he isn’t ready to give up on the Jackson, N.J. native, the first Garden State-born goalie to play in the NHL.
It almost goes without saying this is a big training camp and a career-defining season for the 6-6, 210-pound Stolarz.
“For me, it’s just about getting healthy,’’ he said after Saturday’s session at the Skate Zone. “Just to show myself that I’ve recovered. I worked all summer to get my quickness and strength back.
“This is probably the first time in three years I’ve been able to work right from the start of summer. When you miss a whole year, you miss being around the guys, that whole competitive edge.’’
Stolarz might have shown flashes of brilliance with the Flyers in 2016-17 but that wasn’t enough to convince the Flyers they shouldn’t re-sign Neuvirth and bring in veteran Brian Elliott to replace the departing Steve Mason.
It didn’t really matter because the knee injury came along to throw a wrench into everything.
He’s had all sorts of injuries, some of them freaky like getting his calf severely cut when stepped on by a skate.
None of them will deter him, he insists.
“Hexy’s message to me was, ‘you’re going to have to come in here and take a veteran’s job,’+’’ Stolarz said. “I’m just going out to try to show them I still have a lot of game left in me, that I can compete at a consistent high level.’’
The new contract ($761,250) didn’t surprise him, even though it could cause a bit of a logjam this season in Lehigh Valley.
“Obviously they still see something in me,’’ Stolarz said. “Or they probably just would have let me go. You have to take that as a positive. My job is to show them I do have a lot left in the tank.’’
Lyon and Hart both come into the Phantoms season with impressive resumes. It will take some extraordinary work for the 24-year-old Stolarz to create some playing time for himself.
“Everyone’s ideal job is you want to be the guy,’’ Stolarz said. “If that’s what the organization decides (three goalies), that’s what they decide. I’m sure the three guys will push each other. It could be a good thing in terms of us battling every day.
“You can’t take a day off because you’ve got two guys breathing down your neck.’’
And let’s face it, he’s a Jersey boy, so he would like to stick around Philly.
“There’s an attachment to this organization,’’ he said. “Six years ago, they believed in me the most. I kind of want to go out there and prove my worth. I’ll battle my butt off.’’