February 22, 1995 in Sports

Physical Laws May Not Stop Daniel’s Rise

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Jerrod Daniel is no Newton, but he is hip to the theory that for every shutout there is an equal and opposite blowout - having squeezed both into the weekend just past.

He just doesn’t buy it as cause and effect.

So the 20-year-old goaltender of the Spokane Chiefs starts fresh tonight against Tacoma, neither plotting a whitewash nor fearing any possible repercussions.

His only fear, really, is not getting an opportunity.

It has been the momentum behind his four-year journey criss-crossing the Western Hockey League - from Swift Current to Moose Jaw to Portland to Spokane, motion that owes more than a little to Sir Isaac’s third law.

It is the fuel for his personal mission.

By mid-March, Daniel will have amassed 9,000 minutes in WHL nets without the reward of a minute on ice in the playoffs. That should end this spring.

“I can hardly wait to get in there,” he said. “It means so much.

“We’re a team that could make some noise in the playoffs. I actually think there are teams ahead of us in the standings who are scared to play us because of the type of team we are.”

Mostly, what’s fearsome about the Chiefs is their current roll - 13 victories in the last 18 games after the nightmare of November and December.

Now, quite obviously there are teams that don’t fear the Chiefs, too - Prince Albert being one. Less than 24 hours after Daniel had blanked Prince George 7-0, the Raiders opened fire and chased him to the Spokane bench 8 minutes into a 6-1 shelling of the Chiefs on Sunday.

Daniel stopped just one shot and surrendered three goals that night, but he didn’t stop being a good goaltender just because a couple of snipers were skating around unchecked. The damage was major, but yanking Daniel was as dubious as pulling a pitcher who gives up a pop-fly homer after errors load the bases.

Erratic as his weekend may have been, Daniel has delivered the goods the Chiefs have lacked in goal the previous two seasons: consistency.

Yes, he had his slump in December, too, but that may have been the result of feeling he had to carry a team both inexperienced and injured.

“I tried not to look at it as pressure, but as a challenge,” he said. “There’s nothing better than seeing 40 or 50 shots and having to keep your team in the game.”

Except that the odds are better when you’re only facing 25 or so, as he has lately.

But, as noted, Daniel is all about opportunity. It ran out for him as an 18-year-old at Swift Current when the Broncos acquired - and felt obligated to play - Czech goalie Milan Hnilicka. So he agreed to a trade to Moose Jaw, where he was the regular netminder for current Chiefs coach Mike Babcock before he was fired after the 1993 season. New coach Al Tuer abandoned Daniel in favor of Jody Lehman the following winter.

“He stopped playing me and wouldn’t tell me why,” Daniel recalled. “He wouldn’t give me any explanation. I asked to be traded in early December and he said he wasn’t going to trade me, so I went home.

“I knew they wouldn’t keep me through the deadline without getting anything for me. And (WHL president) Ed Chynoweth found out about the situation, and I was told the league would have gotten involved if nothing had happened.”

Something did. Daniel got his wish. He was shipped to Portland, with the understanding the Winter Hawks would turn him over to Spokane after the season to fulfill some earlier considerations.

He actually put up better numbers than Portland regular Scott Langkow, with whom he split time down the stretch. But Langkow got all the playoff starts, even in the second-round blitz by Kamloops.

A goaltender since the age of 8, Daniel maintains he’s always “loved the challenge of trying to frustrate the opposition.” He also confesses to once having a goalie’s not uncommon nightmares.

“I had a recurring one where I was always late on the ice for a game,” he said. “I don’t know what that was all about.”

It may be about his career. Undrafted, this is Daniel’s last chance to play himself into a pro contract. That’s not an ignoble cause, and the effect a hot goaltender could have on the Chiefs in the playoffs - modest as their record is - is something not even Newton could gauge.

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