Jaxson Stauber looked forward to the opportunity to be the No. 1 goalie for the Sioux Falls Stampede in his second season with the United States Hockey League team.
The start of the 2018-19 season, however, did not exactly go as planned for Stauber.
Fortunately for the Stampede, the 20-year-old from Plymouth, Minnesota, was building his game throughout the regular season and was ready when a second chance to lead the team arrived just as the Clark Cup playoffs were about to start.
After playing just 10 games in January, February and March combined, Stauber carried the Stampede down the stretch, earning Clark Cup Most Valuable Player honors as Sioux Falls stormed to the title.
“The first 20 games of the season, I had played the majority of them,” Stauber said. “I was kind of up-and-down. I was just struggling to find my consistency.
“I had some good games, but definitely some that could have been better.”
Alec Calvaruso came in, took over the majority of playing time in net and put up some of the best regular-season goaltending numbers in the USHL.
While he was playing less, Stauber was beginning to play better, making him ready to lead the way while playing 16 games in the last six weeks after Calvaruso suffered an injury.
“The thing with me is that I always believed I was capable,” said Stauber, the son of former U.S. Women’s National Team coach and Hobey Baker-winning goalie Robb Stauber. “The second half of the year, I had not been playing as much, but I had been pretty consistent.
“My confidence level was at a pretty good point and I knew that I could help the team win games. That was big for me.”
Stauber dramatically outperformed his regular season. The Minnesota State University, Mankato recruit went from a 2.91 goals against average to 1.46 in the playoffs and raised his save percentage from .883 to .941, leading USHL goalies in those statistics as well as wins (11) during the postseason.
In what could have been the most trying times, Stauber was at his best.
Stauber stopped all 44 shots he faced in 126:52 of overtime playoff hockey, allowing the Stampede to win those four games during an 11-1 playoff run.
“I just felt really confident in the guys in front of me,” Stauber said. “Yes, overtime can be nerve-wracking, but once you get past those first couple minutes, it just settles down and you don’t even think about how the next goal could end your season or end the game or that you could lose.
“It was just like everything was flowing and nobody worried about it because we believed in each other.”
Stauber and the Sioux Falls defense were simply tough to score on throughout a 16-2 closing run in which they gave up 28 goals in the equivalent of more than 20 full games because of the extra time in overtime.
“For the team, it was just that everyone was committed to playing a defensive type of game because we knew we had the offensive skill to push teams,” said Stauber, who got technical training from his father in his early years as a youth goalie, but now relies on him more for input on the mental side of playing the position. “We committed to that defensive mindset. Forwards were coming back and playing hard and the D did a good job of keeping shots to the outside and not pinching at unnecessary times.”
An already strong team became the league’s best in the playoffs.
“I just think that really helped it all come together and win a lot of close, low-scoring games,” Stauber said. “As the season goes on, it gets tougher and tougher to score and I think we all kind of realized that we needed to step up the defensive side as a whole.
“That included me. We knew we had to kind of shut the door.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Photo from Sioux Falls Stampede