Oct 14, 2019

By Tom Witosky

Follow @toskyAHLWild

When the Iowa Wild season began, one of the questions facing the team was whether a tandem of a second-year AHL goalie and a rookie would be the right one for the season.

After all, the Wild usually has paired veterans liked Alex Stalock or Andrew Hammond with younger players like Steve Michalek and Kaapo Kahkonen.

But after this weekend’s split with the explosive scoring Texas Stars, Kahkonen, who has started the season with a 3-0 record, Mat Robson, who gave up one goal in regulation Saturday in his pro debut, and goalie coach Frederic Chabot are confident they’ve got the right combination for the season ahead.

“I'm really happy with both. It was a big night for Robbie last night in his first game. He handled himself well. He looked calm and in control,” Chabot said. “Kaapo through his three games has been really good. The stats don't show it particularly, but he's got three wins and in the key moments of all those games, he was good. It's been good with our goalies up to now and I’m really happy with it.”

The two goalies agreed wholeheartedly.

“It’s good to get both goalies involved because it's a long season of 76 games and we're going to need two goalies down the stretch,” Kahkonen said. “It’s a good start for him and we just need to keep building on it by working hard every day to get better.”

Robson, who played two seasons at the University of Minnesota before signing a free-agent contract with the Minnesota Wild, attributed his success as a goalie in part to having competition with a good goalie partner.

“Growing up, I've always had a great goalie partner,” the 23-year-old Toronto native said. “All through school and juniors, those guys are a big reason why I'm able to play at this level. Kaapo is a great guy, and obviously, he's a great competitor on the ice.”

On Friday, Kahkonen showed just how competitive he is as he shut out the Stars in the third period after giving up three goals in the second period to Denis Gurianov. Gurianov had been sent down from Dallas at the start of the weekend to sharpen his game, much like Jordan Greenway did last season when Minnesota sent him to Iowa for the first time.

At the end of the second period with Iowa trailing by one goal for the fourth time at 4-3, Kahkonen chatted with Head Coach Tim Army about the next period as the rest of the team went to the locker room. Afterward, Army acknowledged he was mulling pulling Kahkonen from the game.

“I really don’t like to do that because it seems to me that pulling a goalie puts all the accountability on him and most of the time that’s not right,” Army said. “I thought the goals were more the result of sloppy play.”

Of Gurianov, Army said the player is too good to allow any space.

“You can't give a player of that caliber that kind of room,” Army said. “He's going to hurt you just like he did. And he's a threat every time he's on the ice. You can’t give any space to Gurianov or he scores.”

As they talked, Army said Kahkonen was focused and ready for the third period.

“He was there,” Army said. “That shows the character that we have. We kept pressing and Kaapo played really well in the third period.”

In the third period, Kahkonen was tested several times by the Stars, including a late breakaway by forward Brad McClure. If he scored, the game would likely have been over, Army said.

“That was huge because it would have been two goals, not one,” he said. “It was still one goal and we got it tied and went on to win. Kaapo played a big part in that and got the saves he needed in the shootout.”

On Saturday, Robson was tested early as the Stars swarmed the net in the first period, but couldn’t dent the defenders, particularly Robson, who would finish the game with 32 saves and overcame two extended 3-defender penalty kills, including in overtime.

While the Stars picked-up the extra point in the Saturday shootout, the fact that the two goalies helped lead Iowa to a three of four point weekend against an opponent that dominated Iowa last season.

“They pushed us around last year but they didn't push us around this weekend,” Army said. “We pushed back hard in both games and came from behind. We came back in the third period, which we didn't do against them last year.”

Of his goalie tandem, Army said that if both play well, it’s likely Kahkonen would get a bit more of the ice time. He said schedule and travel will be factors in the decision-making.

“With both playing well, we obviously lead with Kappo,” Army said. “But as the games begin to pile up you'd look probably to have every one of every third game for Robbie. Of course, it will depend on each is playing.“

Chabot said both goalies aren’t as young as they might seem. He pointed out that Kahkonen actually has five years of professional experience, including the four when he played in Finland and Robson at 23 isn’t that young.

“They're both 23 years old so they're not that young,” Chabot said. “They're mature enough that they know their role is to show up to work every day.”

He added, “It always makes you feel secure to have an older guy, but it doesn't guarantee good goaltending. We have two young goalies and they're going to battle for the net. It's good for the team."

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