Monday, September 14, 2009

Absurd Goalie Monday: Darcy Wakaluk

For the past AGMs, I've gone into detail about goalies who had a decent amount of "heat" with them when they were in juniors, but some how had that cooled by the time they reached the pros. Not the case with our next installment, Darcy Wakaluk. He gained speed once he got to the pros, but could have been so much more. There are plenty of memorable moments for Wakaluk though.

The start to Wakaluk's junior career was a big flop, as he went 2-22-0 for the Kelowna Wings of the WHL. And while firewagon hockey was the norm for the early 80's, Wakaluk's 6.29 GAA was something more than the usual GAA. Though, to be honest-- the team only had 15 wins all-season, which more is a reflection on the team that season. However, his performance was enough to get him drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the 7th round of the 1984 Draft. The next season, 1984-85, was no better, as Wakaluk got the starting position. That season, he went 19-30-4, but lowered his GAA to 4.73. After that season, Wakaluk was moved to Spokane to be with the Chiefs in their first season in the WHL. Again, his record improved going 21-22-1, but his GAA went up to 5.25, but it would be his last year in junior and really a lithmus test to see how he'd do in the pros.

Once he moved to the pros, Wakaluk grew into his own. He started in the IHL with the Flint Spirit, but sadly-- HockeyDB doesn't have stats for his nine games there in '86-'87. So we move to Wakaluk's first season with the Rochester Americans, which was a split from Flint during '86-'87 and saw Wakaluk go 2-2-0 with a 2.86 GAA in 11 games played. Not to shabby, but during the '87-'88 season is when Wakaluk got noticed. During that season, Wakaluk got starting duties over Daren Puppa and shined that season, posting a 27-16-3 season, though his GAA was a big larger at 3.45, mostly do to seeing more minutes than the previous season. That season also gave Wakaluk a milestone for an AHL goalie.

On December 6th, 1987 while playing the Utica Devils, Wakaluk became the first goalie in the AHL to actually physically score on an empty-net. While we all know Michel Plasse was the first ever goalie in the modern era when he played for the Kansas City Blues, that was in the Central League. Two days after Wakaluk's feat, Ron Hextall of the Philadelphia Flyers was the first NHL goalie to shoot on goal and score.

After that season, Wakaluk split time between the Americans and big club in the Sabres to mixed reviews. He did alright for himself, going .500 at 10-10-3 with a GAA of 2.99 in Rochester, while when called upon in Buffalo, he posted a 4-5-3 record. Little did he know it would be his last forte in the Buffalo organization, as he was traded to the Minnesota North Stars for an 8th round pick.

After a stint in Kalamazoo in the IHL for a game, Wakaluk was put into the back-up role behind the incumbent Jon Casey in net. That first season, the 1991-92 campaign, gave Wakaluk the most game action he's seen in his short NHL career playing in 36 games going 13-19-1. In '92-'93, Wakaluk saw a little less time, but played adequate behind Casey putting up a 10-12-3 record. When the team moved from Minnesota to Dallas, Wakaluk put up his best NHL season, wins wise, in '93-'94 with an 18-9-6 record with a stellar 2.64 GAA and .910 save percentage in his 36 appearances. It allowed him to get more time behind starter Andy Moog, however it would be the end of his good luck with Dallas. The lockout-shortened season in 1995 saw Wakaluk slip a bit going 4-8-0 in 15 appearances, while his last year with the club in '95-'96 had Wakaluk go 9-16-5 and made Wakaluk expendable from the Stars, especially with the likes of Manny Fernandez, Roman Turek, and the acquisition of Arturs Irbe forcing Wakaluk to free agency.

Wakaluk landed on his feet, however, when he signed with the Phoenix Coyotes, another team that relocated from their original space. However, Wakaluk didn't see much time with workhorse Nikolai Khabibulin getting a vast majority of the starts and game time. Though he only got 16 appearances, Wakaluk went 8-3-1 with a 2.99 GAA; very respectable for a goalie who wasn't getting much time between the pipes. Little did we know then, that it would be Wakaluk's last season between the pipes, as he faded out into retirement.

It didn't take long before Wakaluk landed some coaching gigs, first as a goalie coach in the WHL for the Kamloops Blazers, then as an assistant in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, then onto spots back in the WHL, including an assistant coach position for the Vancouver Giants for a season; but since the 2004-05 season, Wakaluk has been the goalie coach for the Calgary Hitmen, dealing with such talent as Justin Pogge and young up-and-coming Kings goalie, Martin Jones.

Wakaluk has been through plenty of ups and downs in his career and has gone through a lot of situations, but he always stood his ground and found a way to make something good of the worse situations, so it would seem. Now, he's passing along his trade to young goalies and seems to be succeeding to an extent. Good on you, Darcy-- and best of luck in the future.


Unknown said...

I remember Darcy when he was in Rochester. He and Jody Gage were my favorite players. I met Darcy at Longridge mall at an autograph signing nearly 30 years ago. Still remember how cool he was.

Jess said...

Darcy wasn't an NHL superstar but he was my favorite goalie growing up. Even had all my cards signed by him and some other cool items from his time in Dallas, I liked his style and of course his mask and equipment are one of my favorites to day. Hope to meet him sometime