There are a few big differences between the North American game of hockey and what is played over in Europe. Well, technically that sentence is not quite accurate. It’s actually the smaller things that are the most noticeable differences.
For Colorado Avalanche top-goaltending prospect Adam Werner, that has been the case.
After a full six-year career bouncing between Farjested BK, the Swedish Hockey League’s most successful organization in league history, and IF Bjorkloven of the Allsvenskan, Sweden’s second-highest level of competition, Werner now finds himself roughly 4,800 miles from his home, where he is now nesting between the pipes with the AHL-affiliate Colorado Eagles. So far, so good for the 22 year old.
“I like it,” said Werner of playing in Colorado. “It’s a good crowd here and it’s really fun to play here. I like it.”
Homesick? Maybe a little. But it’s really the acclimatization to this “new,” North-American style of play that’s taken the most adjustment.
“I think pretty good,” Werner said of his conversion to hockey on the state side. “Of course there’s some small things to adjust and change in your game, but I think it’s pretty good so far. It’s keeping working on those small things I need to improve and adjust. But so far so good.”
For the 22-year-old first-year pro, things really have been pretty good so far. An injury to Antoine Bibeau, who was acquired from San Jose for Nicolas Meloche at the start of the season, meant Werner was to step into the starting role almost immediately.
In his first full start, Werner stopped 24-of-27 shots. The following weekend, the newbie netminder earned his first win as an Eagle, stopping an impressive 33-of-36 shots he faced. The victory jump-started a streak of four-straight wins for the Sweden native. During that win-streak, Werner averaged a better-than-decent 2.25 goals-against average, accompanied by a very solid .934 save percentage.
In total, Werner has amassed a 5-4 record, tied for the second-most wins of any AHL rookie goaltender as of the first week of November. He’s also posted a .908 save percentage and a 2.88 goals-against average in his nine starts.
A solid first month of pro hockey earned Werner his first NHL call up on Nov. 7. Indeed, it so far seems he’s been adjusting well to the bigger game.
Eagles head coach Greg Cronin has also been impressed with his new netminder, but admitted there are a few things he needs to work on. After all, he is a rookie.
“It’s going to be a learning curve for him,” said Cronin. “Goalies are so hard to manage, right?…that’s the trajectory of those guys. For me and (goaltending coach) Ryan Bach, [who] does such a great job with the goalies, he’s got to stay on top of his weaknesses, which is he has to come out of the net more, he’s got to be quicker to react to things and then rebound management.”
Rebound management is something Werner himself admitted he needs to work on. It’s another transitional issue he attributes to the smaller rinks here in North America.
“Of course it’s faster here and it’s a smaller rink and stuff like that. The toughest thing I think is the different angles,” added Werner. “The rink is smaller, so the situations that [would] happen once [or] twice back home (in Sweden) happen so much more often here. So I think the angles and stuff like that.”
As coach Cronin made mention, Eagles goaltending coach Ryan Bach has done a solid job thus far in aiding in Werner’s transition to an NHL prospect. His 22-year-old project agrees that he’s been a big benefit to his game, too.
“He helps me a lot,” Werner said of Bach. “We work together everyday, of course, so he helps me a lot. We talk a lot [about] those small things. It’s pretty hard in the start because you want to be so good, but you have to adjust a few things. He pushes me to be positive and he helps me a lot.”
Coach Cronin added that the biggest thing they’re working on together is that positioning and rebound control that he mentioned a few times. To become an NHL goaltender those things need to become second nature.
“If you watch any of the NHL goalies, there are some rebounds that are left out there just because of the way it caroms off their pads, but there’s just an effortlessness to it,” added Cronin. “They move, they’re very mechanical and there’s a precision to it. He’s working towards that goal.
“The goalies that are higher on the food chain just effortlessly kick pucks out of the way. We just got to clean that up. It’s just timing... It’s a different mentality. When you’re out and engaged in the game and you’re sharp, you’re not worried about stopping it; you’re worried about directing the rebound. When he’s on his game, he’s doing that. When he’s not, he’s reacting instead of being proactive.”
Werner is very self-aware of what he’s good at and what he needs to work on. What his coaches have been telling him is nothing new. Rather, it’ll just be taking those things that he’s already good at and scaling it to the smaller differences here on North American ice. It truly is the ‘small’ things Werner is learning to adapt to.
“It’s hard to say,” said Werner of what he’d like to improve on the most in his first full season here in Colorado. “But take those small things first and complete a new game plan. You take those big things from back home, but there’s still those small things [to work on], like you need to be more active and stop pucks and small things like that. So keep those things going and keep to improve that.”