It would have been interesting to see what a Liam Hughes-Carl Stankowski goaltending tandem could have done together with the Thunderbirds this season. We'll not get that opportunity though, after the announcement Tuesday that Seattle has traded Stankowski to the Calgary Hitmen for a draft pick and the rights to a U.S. born prospect. The goaltending job, at least the number one spot, now belongs to Hughes.
The T-birds/Stankowski relationship is like that of star-crossed lovers who can't overcome the obstacles to making the relationship a long lasting one. Instead, all we got was that one, shining moment. If Mat Barzal and Ethan Bear were the superstars of the T-birds 2017 WHL Championship team, Stankowski was the surprise revelation. The barely 17 year old netminder started all 20 playoff games that spring in place of an injured 20 year old Rylan Toth, and went 16-4 on the way to a Chynoweth Cup. He almost stole the playoff MVP honors from Barzal with his effort.
And that's what Stankowski will be remembered for as a T-bird; that glorious playoff run, because, well, that's all there is. In two years with Seattle Stankowski spent more time injured, more time away from the organization getting treatment or rehabbing, then he spent with the team. That's no fault of his. Injuries are part of the game and some are more significant then others. Then there were other health issues that again are no fault of Carl's. Just more a matter of genetics. The reality though is that over the course of a two year career with the club, he played in only seven regular season games. He missed all of last season to health issues, not even making it to training camp and barely dropping by the rink near season's end to say hello to his teammates.
Because of Stankowski's absence the T-birds were forced to make the trade for Hughes last September and then later for Dorrin Luding two months later. It was his long term 2016 injury that necessitated the trade that brought in Matt Berlin.
Those three goaltenders played in a combined 90 regular season games the past two seasons while the Thunderbirds waited, and waited, for Stankowski to heal up. Individually all three saw more regular season ice time as T-birds then did Stankowski. Luding got into 17 games in just over half a season with the club. So far, after just one season as a T-bird, Hughes has played in 36 regular season games, plus five postseason games, and Berlin was in net for 37 games in just over a year with the team. In fact, if not for the injury to Toth, we may have seen very little of Stankowski in a Thunderbirds jersey.
But what we saw in that playoff run was legendary. There is no erasing the important part Stankowski played in T-birds history. It started in the very first playoff game against Tri-City when he stopped a number of third period breakaways to preserve a Seattle lead. It was besting Everett's Carter Hart in a second round sweep. It was a near shutout performance in both Game 3 and Game 6 of the Western Conference Championship Series ,on the road both times, against Kelowna. It was a crucial early save in the overtime of the sixth and decisive game against Regina in the Championship Series. Even then though, Stankowski was apparently playing at less then 100-percent. That's what his dad told Any Eide this spring in an article posted at mymorthwest.com.
And it's those health issues that still concerned the T-birds. So they reached a crossroads with Stankowski. Do they gamble he'll stay healthy or do they move on? They made the choice to move on. Only time will tell if they've made the right decision. Stankowski still has three seasons of WHL eligibility left. I hope he can or has already figured out a way to stay on the ice. His dream is to be an NHL goalie and I'm rooting for him. I want him to overcome those health issues. If it were not for those health issues, there would be no need to trade him, if not for those health issues there would have been no need to acquire Hughes, or Berlin, or Luding. If not for those health issues, the return on this trade would have been greater.
But Seattle made the deal from a position of strength. They aren't in the same quandary they were the past two seasons that necessitated trading for three goalies in a 13 month span. First and foremost they have Hughes, the 19 year old who had a strong second half. Strong enough that he finished among the league leaders in save percentage. They have two, young signed prospects in 17 year old Cole Schwebius and 16-year old Eric Ward, and just spent a 2018 third round bantam pick on Thomas Milic. Seattle has now traded three goalies (Berlin, Luding and Stankowski) in the last seven months. You don't do that unless you have confidence in the young prospects coming up through the system.