Some stories say you went to school on a rowboat. WHERE?
“The rowboat part is fake. It always remains a bit crooked. There are always parts of it that turn into mythology somehow, and I’m not really trying to be that guy. There was a little kicker motor, electricity, gas, the whole nine yards, so we didn’t have to do too much manual labor.”
Ah okay. But your parents, Deb and Tim, had a resort on one of the thousands of islands in Lake of the Woods, which borders Minnesota, Manitoba and Ontario. You and your older sister, Sam, lived there until you were seven before the family moved to Baudette, Minnesota, a town of about 1,000 people. You had to take the boat to a school building with one room on another island. Correct?
“Oh yeah. Just not a rowboat. No, but it was really unique. It was actually, I think, one of the last one-room schoolhouses in the country — [kindergarten through eighth grade], all children living on surrounding islands. You’d be surprised how many people our age lived next door to us. Yeah, it’s just a strange situation and interesting.
“Obviously, when you’re young, that’s just your life, and you think, ‘Everyone lives like that, right?’ And then one day you wake up and realize it’s completely bizarre.”
You played at Lake of the Woods High in Baudette and won the 2011 Frank Brimsek Award as Minnesota boys’ senior goalkeeper of the year. You then played two seasons for Omaha of the United States Hockey League and attended Yale. How has that shaped you?
“There are a lot of people in the League from small towns, and everyone has their own unique story. I graduated with 30 children. I think, in terms of my hockey life, it has had a dramatic impact.
“First of all, I had the ability to be a big fish in a small pond, and I think in retrospect that was very important; Second, I had very good coaches, very intelligent hockey minds, but I never really had professional goaltending coaching until I got to Yale. That really changed my game because I just learned how to stop the puck.
“I think you will see a little more specialization in 2024. They teach them how to play goalie first and be a competitor second and be a puck stopper second, and I learned how to just compete, win games, and I think I still keep that at the top of my list for how I want to do that. identify as a goalkeeper.”
You went from a one-room schoolhouse to Yale, but your father, grandfather, and great-grandfather each went to Yale before you. It’s not like you came out of nowhere, right?
“I remember the first time I was driving in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and I ran into a stoplight. I was about 17.5 years old. I’ve had my driver’s license for a long time, but I thought, ‘This is intimidating.’ Sounds stupid. But yeah, my dad obviously went to Yale. He grew up in Wallingford, Connecticut, and he just had a bigger reach, you know? He always said to us, ‘Just go on an adventure. Be interesting.’
“I think that was an integral part, having someone who pushes you and shows you the other facets, and now that I’m past that, I feel happy and grateful that I got the values that I got from that whole small town because I will always have it. Then I went to Yale, and obviously that was a completely different world, politically, socially, and financially. I learned a lot. My world was blown up even bigger there.
“Here’s a better way to put it: my sights were always set on achieving the maximum I could, being the best version of myself, and so I didn’t even think about limitations. I think I grew up thinking, “I can’t wait to see what else is going on.” I am extremely grateful to my parents for that.”
Few leave Yale early to play professional sports, but you left after your freshman year and joined Lehigh Valley of the AHL in 2016-2017. You split your time with Lehigh Valley and the Philadelphia Flyers from 2017-21, Chicago of the AHL and the Carolina Hurricanes in 2021-22, and Charlotte of the AHL and the Panthers last season. At what point did hockey seem like a viable career?
“I have about 5 ½ credits [short of a degree in political science], and to be honest, when I left I thought, ‘I’m going to try the hockey thing.’ I didn’t expect to play professional hockey when I was in high school, even when I went to college. After my freshman year, I went to some development camps and I thought, “Okay, maybe there’s something going on here.” I took it more seriously.
“I had a pretty good rookie year at Lehigh, and then I got better that summer, and then I thought, ‘Oh, I’m kind of knocking on the NHL door.’ And then I started buying some games, and obviously once you start making money, everything changes. It’s like, ‘Oh, I can support myself.’ And so, I guess, there was just never the pressure. I still have a burning desire to get my degree. It bothers me that I don’t have it.”
Do you plan to finish it?
“I have to, and I’d just like to make some money when I’m done. That also helps.”
On May 9, 2018, Lehigh Valley and Charlotte set the AHL record with 86:48 overtime in the Calder Cup Playoffs. You made 94 saves in a 2-1 5OT win for Lehigh Valley, while Alex Nedeljkovic made 51 saves for Charlotte. How important was that experience?
“I spent my entire career in the American League, so those are the experiences I draw from. I don’t have a lot of NHL experiences to draw from. It was amazing. It was a great experience. I have a plaque on my wall, the whole nine yards.
“It’s clear we won. ‘Ned’ was the other goalkeeper so I’m sure his side would be different. I feel sorry for him because it was a grueling experience. We were up 2-1 in the series going into that game, and that was the second half of a back-to-back. That was the second game in two evenings. Obviously if we had lost the series would have been 2-2. We took a 3-1 lead. You felt the series change at that moment, it was such an emotional big game.
What did you take advantage of when you took over at Florida last season?
“I’ve just spent so much time in the American League where I’ve been able to refine myself as a guy who plays a lot, not just steps in here and there. I think that helped. [Sergei Bobrovsky] hurt. At that point, there was no one else, and so to me I thought, ‘They don’t have anyone else here, so it’s my show.’ I was able to just take that American League experience of ‘I’m the guy, I’m the starter, whatever, blah, blah, blah’ and translate it.
“And that’s really what I needed, just a little runway, instead of ‘that guy’s getting sick, he has to come in for a game.’ That’s just really hard to do. I think it really helped me a lot that way. Last year I actually had a period in the middle of the season where I played six or seven games, and I was a bit up and down, but that time solidified the comfort and confidence that I had, and then at the end of the year for me it was just playing, just being in the moment, and so it was good to just feel comfortable. That comfort factor is so important.”
Similar situation in Detroit this season?
“Oh yes, certainly. I’m a big fan of the recipe. With everything in life you have to find that repeatable process, and once you find it, that’s crucial. I kind of had the confidence of, ‘Okay, I know I can do this. I know this is what works for me and what doesn’t.’ I also just think about my age. If I let in whatever, ‘x’ number of goals, I think confidence in yourself also goes a long way.”
Speaking of recipes, you’re not a good cook either?
“I’m fine. I’m enough. To bring it all back, my mother made all the food in the restaurant from scratch. She’s not super technical in the way she learned, but she is very skilled, can make everything, and that appealed to me.
“I really enjoy cooking. I’m not good at anything, but I can do a lot of things. Don’t know. I just think that being able to provide meals for yourself and cook for yourself is a really important life skill, and I’m very proud of it.
Don’t Lake of the Woods and Baudette claim to be the Walleye Capital of the World? How do you prepare your pike-perch?
“The best way to eat walleye is fried with greasy Busch’s baked beans over the fire. I don’t want fried pike-perch, something healthy. I prefer to save it for when I can fry it and eat it like a crazy animal.”
NHL.com staff writer Tracey Myers contributed to this report