GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Remember the time in mid-March, when the Rangers coaching staff all came down with COVID-19, and the club was forced to call up the coach and associate coach of their Hartford Wolf Pack farm team to stand behind their bench for 10 days?
Yeah, that was crazy.
"That was… last year in a nutshell,’’ goalie Tyler Wall said Friday as the Rangers rookies practiced at the MSG Training Center in advance of Saturday’s rookie game against the Philadelphia Flyers. "You had to prepare for everything. Pretty much anything that could go wrong went wrong… it was just a weird year.’’
Wall, a rookie with the Wolf Pack in 2020-21, went 3-4-1 in his first pro season, with a fat 3.58 goals-against average and an .865 save percentage. He’s hoping for a do-over this year.
"I had one of those [down] seasons in college, and I thought I bounced back,’’ Wall said. "I had two of my best seasons, and I’m hoping to do the same thing here in Hartford this year.’’
In his sophomore year at UMass-Lowell, Wall went 3-9-0, with a 3.68 GAA and .868 save percentage. But he rebounded his junior and senior years, posting GAAs of 2.09 and 2.10, and save percentages of .921 and .931 in those two seasons. He believes the return to a normal, 72-game season — and the return of the fans — will help him.
Last season the Wolf Pack finished 14-9-1 in a weird, 24-game campaign where the team played in empty arenas and only faced only two opponents: The Bridgeport Sound Tigers and Providence Bruins. But this year Hartford will play everyone in the 15-team Eastern Conference of the AHL, so things should feel a lot more normal.
As far as making it to the NHL, Wall knows he’s well down the Rangers’ goaltending depth chart, which has Igor Shesterkin at the top, followed by Alexandar Georgiev and Farmingville native Keith Kinkaid. Adam Huska, Wall and Dylan Garand, who is also at rookie camp this week, fall in somewhere behind the top three.
For now, Wall said he isn’t thinking about that. Instead, he’s focused on playing his best game every day, and this weekend is a big one, as the Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers rookies will play a home-and-home series Saturday and Sunday. The first game is Saturday at the Rangers’ practice facility, and the teams square off again Sunday at the Flyers practice rink in Voorhees, N.J.
"It’s definitely very exciting,’’ Wall said. "I think the guys are all ready to get back to playing a different team and not checking their own guys and battling with their own teammates… I know last year we didn’t have any [preseason] games against other teams, so this is a huge help for us.’’