First-year Steelheads goalie gets the call in Friday’s season opener

clangrill@idahostatesman.comOctober 18, 2013 

Goaltender Pat Nagle had mixed results in Idaho’s two preseason games against Utah. He went 1-1 with a 3.43 goals-against average and an .837 save percentage. “The starts in exhibition probably weren’t as great as he would have liked them to be,” coach Brad Ralph said. “But that’s a goalie’s job. They have to have a short-term memory and move on.”

KYLE GREEN — kgreen@idahostatesman.com

Opportunity. It can make or break an athlete’s career.

Goalie Pat Nagle won’t have to wait long for the opportunity to prove himself to his Steelheads teammates and second-year coach Brad Ralph.

Nagle will start Idaho’s season-opening game at Utah on Friday night.

“My job is to instill confidence in (goalies), and their job is to perform whenever they get the opportunity,” Ralph said.

Nagle is getting the opportunity because last year’s team MVP, goalie Josh Robinson, was recalled to the Texas Stars of the AHL last week.

And while Robinson is expected to rejoin the Steelheads in time for their home opener Wednesday night against San Francisco, Friday’s game is Nagle’s to win or lose.

“I think it’s good that Nags will get that first game,” Ralph said. “It’s on the road, and it will only benefit him that he’s not going to be under the pressure of being in front of the home crowd.”

But it’s not like Nagle hasn’t been in pressure-packed situations before. In his first year as a pro, he was a member of the Florida Everblades team that won the Kelly Cup in 2012. He went 20-14-3 during the regular season and posted the best goals-against average (1.42) and save percentage (.941) of any goalie in the playoffs that year. He played six games in the postseason, with a 4-1 record, while his teammate, John Muse, went 11-2 and was named the Kelly Cup MVP.

“I was very fortunate, because in my first season as a pro I got to play a lot in the regular season and in the playoffs,” Nagle said. “(Muse) was a very good goalie, and we kind of fed off each other, and we were lucky enough to win it.”

After two seasons in the Tampa Bay Lightning system, Nagle became a free agent this past offseason. The 6-foot-2, 195-pounder had worked with Dallas Stars goaltending coach Mike Valley before, and he had heard positive things about the Stars’ AHL and ECHL organizations.

“I was excited to get a fresh start,” said Nagle, 26. “My first two years were great, but I thought by coming here I had a chance to move along, get some playing time and improve my game.”

Ralph intends to give Nagle every opportunity to earn a role as the Steelheads’ top goalie this season.

“I think Pat’s role is to try to establish himself as a No. 1,” Ralph said. “I think he’s got all the tools, he just needs to believe mentally that he’s the go-to guy. There’s no better spot for him to be in. At this point, I’m hoping he feels like he has the No. 1 spot and he can roll with it.”

Outsiders might consider this to be nothing more than lip service. After all, Robinson returns after a stellar rookie season in which he went 27-8-4.

But one need only look to last season to realize Ralph isn’t afraid to go with the goalie that he thinks gives his team the best shot at victory. Many fans assumed the more-experienced Tyler Beskorowany would be Idaho’s go-to goalie. But Robinson proved himself by the end of the season, and Ralph rewarded him: Robinson played in 13 playoff games, while Beskorowany played in six.

“Whoever is playing better at that moment will play more,” Ralph said.

Nagle certainly can’t argue with that.

“That’s how you get better, by battling,” he said.

And Nagle said fans can expect him to battle. Just don’t expect him to be too flashy.

“I keep it pretty simple, kind of like my personality, I guess,” he said. “I keep it pretty even keel, and just try to keep the game simple, keep my angles, control my rebounds. … I just try to do what I’m supposed to do and then make a few extra saves when I get the opportunity.”

That first opportunity will come Friday night.

Chris Langrill: 377-6424

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