'Unflappable' Stars goaltender Jake Oettinger back in form after trying season | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source
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'Unflappable' Stars goaltender Jake Oettinger back in form after trying season

Edmonton Oilers' Zach Hyman crashes into Dallas Stars goaltender Jake Oettinger during NHL playoff action in Edmonton on Monday, May 27, 2024.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

DALLAS - Jake Oettinger will never again take his health for granted.

Professional athletes — especially the younger ones — often have a feeling of invincibility.

The Dallas Stars goaltender knows what that's like. And the sinking, helpless feeling when it's taken away.

It was abruptly decided last July a lingering ankle injury Oettinger played through during the 2022-23 campaign and playoffs required surgery. The procedure cost him most of his summer workout schedule. He only started skating right before training camp.

"You learn a lot about yourself," Oettinger said. "You appreciate just being in the net and being healthy that much more."

The 25-year-old, who has helped his team reach the NHL's Western Conference final against the Edmonton Oilers, started this season strong with a 5-0-1 record and a .939 save percentage.

His numbers, however, then started to fall off, going 6-7-1 with an .883 save percentage over his next 15 appearances before suffering a lower-body injury that sidelined him from mid-December to mid-January.

"I'd be lying to you if I said there wasn't some concern at one point in the year," Stars head coach Pete DeBoer said of Oettinger's dip in form. "He's such a mature, unflappable kid. You saw a little bit of vulnerability.

"But I always took comfort in knowing that he had a foundation there that he could rely on, that his character is second to none, his leadership's second to none, that he was gonna get back there."

Oettinger, who was still named to his first all-star game, got things in order once he returned to the lineup, going 24-7-2 with a .908 save percentage the rest of the way, including an eight-game win streak from mid-March to the beginning of April that truly signalled he was back heading into the playoffs.

The six-foot-six, 224-pound netminder from Lakeville, Minn., credited those closest to him — including his fiancée — with the process of pushing through.

"Even when the games weren't going well, I felt like I was like doing good things," Oettinger said. "When the bounces don't go your way and you're not playing your best, it can really feel like a lot.

"I started getting the bounces and putting the pieces together of what I was working on, and relying on the people around me."

Feeling more like his old self, Oettinger still finished the regular season with lowest save percentage of his four-year career at .905 after a high-water mark of .918 in 2022-23 when the Stars also made the conference final.

He raised his level further when the schedule flipped to the playoffs last month. Despite giving up four goals in a Game 4 loss Edmonton, he owned a .917 save percentage in the post-season heading into Friday's action.

"Such a calming presence," Stars centre Wyatt Johnston said. "Gives us a lot of confidence."

Dallas centre Matt Duchene, who has played in front of elite puck-stoppers Sergei Bobrovsky, Pekka Rinne and Jusse Saros, said Oettinger is both relaxed and intense.

"He walks that line that goalies need," Duchene said. "If you're too on the gas and too intense, when you let in a bad goal, you're not going to forget about it, you're not going to move past it.

"He has that ability to be dialled in, but also be extremely calm."

DeBoer said one of Oettinger's best attributes is that ability to park disappointment.

"Unflappable," said the coach. "That's a sign of greatness at that position. The guys that allow one bad game to bleed into multiple bad games, you're sitting at home this time of year."

Oettinger said his calm exterior comes from experience on and off the ice.

"Knowing the ups and downs," he said. "Having gone through the downs and some really big ups, and knowing it's all around the corner."

The biggest downs of his professional career came this year as he rehabbed his injuries.

"It gave me a good perspective of even when the times are bad, just how lucky I am to be doing this every day," he said. "I'll never complain about anything anymore. Just happy to be healthy and be a part of this team."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2024.

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News from © The Canadian Press, 2024
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