Some birthday presents come in a box; others in a bag. But for goaltender Stephen Michalek, the best birthday present came via a phone line.
On Saturday, Michalek’s 18th birthday, he received a call from Team USA goaltending coach Joe Exter, inviting him to fill in for an injured Will Yanakeff at the 2011 USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp.
“It was a very good surprise birthday present,” Michalek said. “I was sitting there about to do some stuff with my family. Then I got the call from Coach Exter and next thing I know I’m up here playing against the best kids in the country. It’s been a pretty cool experience.”
The first thing Michalek asked Exter: “How soon do I need to be up in Lake Placid?”
“We need you up here as quickly as you can,” Exter replied to the sixth round pick (161st overall) of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
So the scramble began. Michalek, who will attend Harvard in the fall, hustled to packed his hockey bag and he hit the road for the four-hour drive from his home in Hartford, Conn., to Lake Placid, N.Y.
“Being invited to the camp really couldn’t have been better timing,” Michalek said. “I was working with my goalie coach a lot last week to get back in shape and get on my skates a bit before leaving for college in a couple weeks.”
And it certainly was worth the extra birthday commotion. Michalek came in for USA White midway thought Sunday’s final intrasquad scrimmage and stopped 24-of-26 shots. USA Blue trailed by a goal in the third period and applied heavy pressure, but Michalek was able to hold onto the lead and help USA White to a victory.
Michalek made several impressive saves in his time between the pipes for USA White, including two amazing glove saves through traffic late in the third period.
“It was one of those days where the pucks were hitting me,” Michalek said. “They were making it pretty easy for me. There were a lot of outside shots and I didn’t have too much of a problem. It felt really good to get the win.”
Because the teams split the two intrasquad scrimmages, an overtime was played in an attempt to break the tie. Michalek stopped five shots in the extra session, which went scoreless. A shootout followed, and Michalek made three saves to secure the series victory for USA White.
Not a bad first day at camp.