For the Minnesota Wild, starting goalie Niklas Backstrom needed a break, but backup Josh Harding was not going to be available for their game against the Vancouver Canucks due to an issue with the medication he takes for his multiple sclerosis. In calling up Darcy Kuemper from the AHL Houston Aeros, though, the team made a young goalie’s dream a reality.
Sure, the Canucks ended up spoiling Kuemper’s NHL debut by beating the Wild 2-1, but the experience of the debut is something the 22-year old goalie will always remember. After the game, he and his younger brother both took to Twitter to share their views of the game:
Thank you so much everyone for all the support! What an experience that was tonight, wish we could have pulled out the win tho. #whattarush
— Darcy Kuemper (@dkuemps35) February 13, 2013
Couldn’t be more proud of my big brother. Life long dreams can become a reality. #NHL
— Brendon Kuemper (@kuemps8) February 13, 2013
Where did Kuemper come from? He was drafted by the Wild in the later stages of the 2009 draft, by which point he’d already spent one season with the WHL Red Deer Rebels. (Minnesota’s 2012 first-round pick, Matt Dumba, also plays for Red Deer.) In that campaign, he played 55 games, putting up a 21-25-8 record with a 2.96 goals-against average and a .898 save percentage. So, yes, those were somewhat decent numbers, but in need of improvement. He got just that the following season for Red Deer, getting a 28-23-4 record, a 2.73 and .908 save percentage.
The 2009-10 season also saw his first dalliances with playing in the minors, though he saw action in just eight games for Houston.
Kuemper’s record improved even further in what would prove to be his last season in Red Deer in 2010-11, nabbing a 45-12-5 winning record with a .933 and 1.86. Once he was finished playing juniors, dabbled even more in Minnesota’s system, playing stints with the Aeros and the Ontario Reign of the ECHL.
The Wild changed their ECHL affiliation for this season to the new Orlando Solar Bears, who may have the funniest logo in all of pro sports–who can say no to a polar bear looking cool as a cucumber while wearing sunglasses? Kuemper has spent time there too, plus some more time with Houston, putting up a 10-6-0 record, 1.79 and .938 this year.
Kuemper will probably go back to Texas sometime soon to continue his development. Goalies take a long time to develop, but if they do so well, it’s worth it for the team. Plus, at just 22 years old, he’s younger than Backstrom (35) and Harding (28) by quite a margin, so Wild fans will definitely see him again in the future.
Also, even though he was on the other side of things, Roberto Luongo went over during warmups to wish Kuemper luck and welcome him into the fraternity of goalies. That’s a nice touch.