Airdrie's Dell impressing in new role with Sharks
Thursday, Feb 02, 2017 12:13 pm
With the National Hockey League (NHL) reaching the unofficial midway point of the 2016-17 season – the All-Star break – Airdrie’s Aaron Dell is rested and recharged for a push to the postseason with the San Jose Sharks.
Like most hockey players growing up around the world, cracking an NHL roster is one of the ultimate dreams for any fan and Dell finally achieved that goal this season after a lengthy pursuit of an opportunity at playing in the bigs.
Since being named one of the Sharks’ two netminders for the season, the 27-year-old has not only enjoyed his time in the top hockey league in the planet, he has helped play an important role with his team.
“It’s been awesome so far,” Dell said. “It’s a good team, good group of guys and we’re really starting to click now.
“(Playing time) was limited at the start of the year, but as the season has gone on, I’ve gotten more and done what I’ve needed to do with what (the coaching staff) has asked of me.”
As a member of the Sharks, Dell said he knows the team is determined on returning to the Stanley Cup Finals a season after falling short of the league championship, losing in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“Every team expects to make a run for the cup every season,” Dell said. “That’s a big expectation for the team especially after being in the finals last year.”
Joining a team that has had recent success has not only helped Dell thrive in his appearances between the pipes, it has also helped him get settled into NHL-calibre play after spending his first four professional seasons in the Central Hockey League, East Coast Hockey League and American Hockey League.
As an NHL rookie, Dell said he didn’t have any expectations in terms of how many games he would play this season, especially backing up a goaltender like Martin Jones, who started 65 games in his first year with the Sharks last season. But the Airdronian has already played in nine games this season, with eight of those being starts.
Dell made his first NHL career start Oct. 18 when he turned away 21 of the 23 shots he faced from the New York Islanders for his first-ever NHL win.
“I’ve dreamed about that day my whole life,” Dell said. “When (that moment) finally came, I didn’t think about it too much at the time.
“I tried to push the emotions back and play my game. I then gave myself some time to reflect on the moment after and it was pretty amazing.”
It didn’t take very many starts for the goalkeeper to get another career first out of the way when he shutout the Philadelphia Flyers, stopping all 21 shots on target in front of the San Jose faithful Dec. 30.
“You’re obviously trying to get a shutout every game,” Dell said. “I had been close a couple of times. It was more of a relief than anything when that one actually happened.”
Dell’s former head coach at the University of North Dakota (UND), Dave Hakstol, is currently the head coach of the Flyers. Dell said that although he was sure his former bench boss wanted a win, he was likely happy to see the netminder get his first career shutout.
“That was a cool game against my old coach. I really wanted to win that one,” Dell said. “He molded me as a player through my college career. My successes show through him as well.
“Even though we beat him, I think he was happy to see me play well.”
Another monumental moment in Dell’s young NHL career came on Jan. 11 when the Airdronian got to start his first game against a divisional rival just kilometres south of Airdrie against the Calgary Flames.
Dell has some history in Calgary, suiting up for two seasons of junior hockey with the Calgary Canucks of the Alberta Junior Hockey League before moving on to UND.
Although playing in front of friends and family as an NHLer for the first time can be a nerve-wracking experience for some players, Dell said he took the moment for what it was worth, but wasn’t too worried heading into the Scotiabank Saddledome.
Unfortunately for Dell, he did not end up winning that game, giving up three goals in a 3-2 decision.
“It would have been nice to get the win, but it was still a cool experience for sure,” Dell said. “At this level, I’m used to everybody seeing my games.”
Since the loss, Dell has bounced back with a pair of strong outings against the Tampa Bay Lightning Jan. 19 and the Winnipeg Jets Jan. 24.
This season Dell has a 6-2-0 record, a 1.97 goals-against average and a 0.930 save percentage.