JERSEY GUY STOLIE THE GOALIE IS A FLYERS’ FAN FAVE!

By Annie Ross

The Flyers won Anthony Stolarz’s first NHL game game, 5-3, delighting a large group of Stolarz’s relatives and friends from New Jersey among the crowd of 19,408 at Wells Fargo Center.

Stolie the Goalie, as Stolarz is called, stopped all 28 shots by the Detroit Red Wings to post his first shutout in a 1-0 overtime victory. His two victories were part of a 10-game Flyers winning streak.

Stolarz, who was born in Edison, N.J., and grew up in Jackson, N.J., watched No. 1 goalie, Steve Mason, play the next four games before replacing him in the second period of Thursday’s, a 4-0 loss to the Devils in Newark. Stolarz, who rooted for the Devils as a child, made 12 saves and allowed two goals.

When the backup goaltender Michal Neuvirth returns from a knee injury, probably next month, Stolarz is expected to go back to the Flyers’ AHL affiliate in Allentown, to get regular playing time. That is fine with him, too. He has already proved a point.

Stolarz said he was “shocked” to learn that he was the first New Jersey-born NHL goalie. NHL players from New Jersey were rare, and he did not take a common route to the league, with stops in Texas and Nebraska.

Seven years ago, Anthony Stolarz played for the New Jersey Devils under-16 youth national team. He played a season for the third-level squad of the Jersey Hitmen, a junior team in Wayne, N.J.

Stolarz sought to play for the Hitmen’s top team in 2011, but that team already had a goaltender, Chris Funkey, who is now playing at Penn State. Stolarz was offered a chance to play on the second-level team. He passed.

“He grew very quickly at a young age, between 15 and 16, and I think it threw off a lot of his balance and equilibrium — he struggled finding the net,” said Jim Hunt, the Hitmen president and director of player development and former coach and general manager. “We just weren’t confident he could succeed. He wasn’t ready to make the jump to the top team.”

Stolarz, who at 6-6 inches fits a trend of tall goalies, was stung by the Hitmen’s decision.

“I was definitely upset — being so young, my whole, entire life, I was the guy,” he said. “I took it and let it motivate me.”

Stolarz’s mother, Karol, said: “In his younger years, he was usually the goaltender. He played on some teams where he was the only goaltender.”

Stolarz went to Albany to try out for a junior North American Hockey League team from Corpus Christi, Tex., the IceRays. He made the team, moved south and played well for a year.

Anthony Stolarz was then chosen by the Flyers in the second round of the 2012 draft and earned a scholarship to the University of Nebraska Omaha.

He played only eight games in Omaha before he dropped out to join the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. Stolarz posted a 38-8-4 record in two seasons and overcame two setbacks — a gash in his leg that needed 55 stitches to close, and an eight-game suspension for slashing Windsor’s Josh Ho-Sang, now an Islanders prospect, in the head with his stick.

After undergoing hip surgery, Stolarz joined the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, the Flyers’ top farm club, in 2014. In two seasons, he was shuttled back and forth between Philly and Allentown six times because of injuries to Flyers goaltenders, but he never played in a game.

When Neuvirth was injured in November, Stolarz was recalled again — and watched Mason play six straight games. When Stolarz finally got a start on Nov. 27, his mother was there.

“I’ve been a goalie mom for over 20 years, so basically, I was thinking, ‘Just stop the puck,’” she said.

Stolarz will be a restricted free agent after the season, and while he said he would love to stay with the Flyers, he can show other teams what he can do.

Stolarz has made New Jersey sports history, after all. With emerging players like Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau and the Devils’ Kyle Palmieri, the state is making more of an impact on hockey. The Hitmen’s Hunt said 35 to 40 players from the state were playing Division I college hockey, “and 20 years ago, it was rare to have a kid from Jersey in Division I.”

Stolie the Goalie says he just wanted a chance.

“They eased me in,” Stolarz said of the Flyers. “It was a process: Take in as much as you can. This level is not easy. The difficult part is not making it here. It’s staying here.”

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