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Photo Credit: Bakersfield Condors

Dustin Wolf is off to a red-hot start with the Stockton Heat

Calgary Flames goaltending prospect Dustin Wolf continued his impressive play with the Stockton Heat on Saturday, stopping 31 of the 33 shots he faced in a 4-2 Heat win over the Bakersfield Condors.

With the victory, Wolf improved to 2-0-1 with an eye-popping .951 save percentage to start the 2021–22 season. Factoring in his three American Hockey League contests with the Heat in 2020–21, Wolf has a 4-1-1 record and a .927 save percentage to this point in his professional career.

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Look a little deeper, however, and Wolf’s numbers become even more impressive.

Wolf made his AHL debut with the Heat against the Toronto Marlies on Feb. 21, 2021. The game went about as poorly as it could have for the young goaltender as he surrendered five goals on 11 shots before being replaced by Garret Sparks, who proceeded to allow two more goals in a 7-1 Heat loss.

Three nights later, Wolf returned to action between the pipes for Stockton against the same opponent. He allowed a goal on the first shot he faced but finished the night with 36 saves on 38 shots in a 4-2 Heat win.

Wolf allowed six goals on 12 shots to begin his AHL career. He subsequently made 62 saves on the final 64 shots he faced with the Heat in 2020–21 and has 97 saves on 102 shots faced to start the 2021–22 season. Excluding the first dozen shots he faced, Wolf’s career AHL save percentage sits at a ridiculous .958.

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What happened on the first 12 shots Wolf faced, then? How did he go from letting in 50% of his opponents’ shots to posting numbers more in line with his gaudy Western Hockey League statistics?

In short: Wolf was really, really unlucky in his first AHL game. Here is the highlight video from that contest, as posted to YouTube by the official Stockton Heat team account:

Nothing really went Stockton’s way on Feb. 21, 2021, but Wolf had an especially rotten time trying to deal with crazy bounces and awful turnovers right in from of him. He allowed five goals on 11 shots in the game but none of them were solely his fault:

  • Goal No. 1 came directly as a result of a defensive-zone turnover by Connor Zary (who, like Wolf, was playing in his first professional game). Zary tried to stickhandle his way out of his own zone and ended up sending the puck right into the slot for Scott Pooley to pick up and fire past Wolf.
  • Goal No. 2 deflected off Joey Anderson’s skate in the high slot, giving Wolf very little time to react to the change in direction.
  • Goal No. 3 came directly after the Heat managed to lose a 5-on-1 puck battle in their own end while on the power play. Despite being laughably outmanned, Tyler Gaudet somehow found himself right in front of Wolf with all the time in the world to shoot the puck past him.
  • Goal No. 4 probably should have been called back for goaltender interference. Sure, Wolf lost track of the puck after stopping an initial shot by Jeremy McKenna. That being said, Richard Clune clearly disrupted Wolf’s movement in the crease with his skate and ultimately ended up pushing the puck across the goal line with a forward dive.
  • Goal No. 5 would have gone wide had the puck not deflected off Rob Hamilton’s knee right in front of Wolf.

As previously mentioned, Wolf also gave up a goal on the first shot he faced in his second AHL game. Care to guess how that one went in?

Wolf couldn’t catch a break on the first 12 shots he faced in the AHL. In addition to his bad luck, Wolf was also technically too young to play in the AHL at the time and likely dealt with nerves before making his professional debut.

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That combination of factors would be enough to damage or even sink the careers of many an aspiring professional goaltender. Instead, Wolf rebounded in dramatic fashion. He was arguably Stockton’s best player in both his final games of the 2020–21 season, posting a .954 save percentage in those two contests (including that unlucky goal off Hamilton’s skate).

It’s easy to look at Wolf’s AHL stat-line from the 2020–21 season and think he might have struggled as a 19-year-old goaltender playing in the pros a year ahead of schedule. In reality, his red-hot start to the 2021–22 season has just been a continuation of where he left off in his debut go-round with the Heat.

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Wolf is still a few years away from making the NHL but he’ll keep chipping away at his E.T.A. if he keeps up anything close to this level of play. He makes up for his relatively short stature with extremely acrobatic play and great quickness in goal.

The Heat (3-0-1) will return to action at Stockton Arena on Oct. 30 for a showdown against the Colorado Eagles (0-3-1) at 7:00 p.m. MT.

For more 2021–22 Stockton Heat coverage, follow FlamesNation contributors Paige Siewert and Mike Gould on Twitter.