In an ideal world, a young goaltender’s transition to the pro ranks would go smoothly. In the real world, that rarely happens. Jon Gillies’ first campaign saw him play just seven American Hockey League games before a recurring hip injury required surgery and Mason McDonald found himself in a season-long battle for an ECHL starting job.
Given those recent examples, it’s probably not shocking that Calgary Flames goaltending prospect Tyler Parsons faced some adversity during his first whirl in pro hockey. In his first full season as a professional, he faced injuries, adjustment challenges, and the difficulties of being yo-yoed between Stockton and Kansas City for much of the season. But based on his demeanor at Flames prospect camp, he hasn’t let it phase him.
Based on the AHL and ECHL websites, Parsons started the year with Kansas City. He was promoted to Stockton roughly four times and demoted back to the Mavericks three times, eventually finishing out the season with Stockton. He had four wins combined from January until the end of the season, a product of some injuries and his bouncing around two levels of hockey.
“It was up and down, had a few injuries and stuff,” reflected Parsons following practice at the Stampede Corral. “It kind of reminded me of my first year in London, it was kind of the same thing. It was a big learning lesson for me, the first year pro, just learning how things work and seeing how all the other guys do it. And honestly just learning, just learning off of everybody else, it was big for me coming into this season.”
For his part, Parsons arrived in Flames camp with an upbeat attitude and some sharp goalie gear – he has black pads with red accents and a new mask painted by longtime collaborator Derrick Gilders. He looks the part of a big-league goalie, and through the first chunk of rookie camp he’s definitely played the part on the ice. He noted that he learned some lessons from his early pro challenges.
“My biggest thing is I was thinking too fast,” said Parsons. “I just needed to settle in and calm down. I think maybe that transition I had, ‘it’s my first year pro, I’ve got to be really fast,’ when really you just have to make a few small adjustments and just play the way you know how to play. That’s what I really focused on, just being patient and holding my feet for longer.”
From the outside looking in, the Flames’ goaltending situation seems fairly set for 2018-19. It’s a given that Mike Smith will be the NHL starter. Most likely one of David Rittich or Gillies will be Smith’s backup, with the other starting most games in Stockton. Parsons seems slated to be the second netminder for the Heat, but given that nothing’s been cemented quite yet he seems rather open-minded about his placement for the coming season.
“You know, I just see it as everything’s up in the air,” said Parsons. “I’m just going to focus on myself and do everything I can out on the ice and do the best I can every single day and compete as hard as I can everyday. I really strongly believe that if you put the work in, good things will happen. I’m just going to keep working hard, just doing whatever I can to get better every day.”
Parsons is entering the second season of an entry-level deal that will expire following the 2019-20 campaign. Like many youngsters, he has NHL dreams and a resume of high achievement at prior levels of hockey, including a Memorial Cup and a World Junior gold medal. But unlike many youngsters, he’s had a season of adversity to remind him of just how challenging it can be to get to the next level. While he’s undoubtedly still driven by a desire to play at the highest level, he’s also aware of the need for patience as he climbs that mountain.
“I’m still 20, I’m turning 21 this month,” said Parsons. “I’m still young. I’ve got a lot of time to develop and I’ve got a lot of things to learn. Goaltending is a tough game, it’s very high pressure and it’s a tough mental game. Just like I said, just working on my game every day, competing and working hard, and good things will happen.”