20 years old.. wow.. good read! Taken from the Hockey News.
With 13 games left in the season and the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning hanging on by their fingernails for a playoff spot, the thought around Tampa Bay -- at least among fans and the media -- was the team might actually turn over its hopes to a rookie goaltender with less than 44 minutes of NHL experience.
Gerald Coleman, a 20-year-old kid who was playing junior hockey a year ago, was seen as a possible savior in what has been a strange and frustrating season for the Lightning.
The problems started last summer, when Lightning GM Jay Feaster faced the daunting task of trying to re-sign a slew of key players: MVP Marty St-Louis, playoff star Ruslan Fedotenko, top defenseman Dan Boyle, franchise player Vinny Lecavalier and No. 1 goalie Nikolai
He couldn't sign everyone and Khabibulin made the decision easier when he flew Tampa Bay's coup for the big money in Chicago.
That was fine at the time with the Lightning. They placed their trust in John Grahame, who nearly became the No. 1 goalie during the 2003-04 Stanley Cup season when Khabibulin struggled.
Based on Grahame's numbers, the Lightning had every reason to believe he could step into Khabibulin's skates. Yes, he was as a backup, but nevertheless, Grahame went 18-9-1 with a 2.06 goals-against average. In two seasons with the Lightning, he was 24-14-5 with a 2.12 GAA.
Certainly, those numbers suggested he deserved a chance. And when the Lightning brought in veteran Sean Burke to serve as a backup, and possible No. 1 if Grahame faltered, the team's goaltending seemed set.
But nothing has gone as planned for the Lightning this season, starting with the goaltending.
Grahame has been wildly inconsistent. Between Oct. 29 and Dec. 22, he lost five in a row, followed by a franchise-record nine-game winning streak, followed by a four-game losing streak.
And just when it appeared the Lightning was about to turn to Burke, Grahame went on another run, winning five of six with four shutouts and another game with only one goal allowed.
That streak earned him the starting job in the first game of the Olympics for the United States.
But he came out the break and went into another tailspin.
That was when coach John Tortorella was going to turn the reigns over to Burke. But, as is the Lightning's luck this season, Burke fractured his finger in a practice.
When Coleman relieved Grahame on March 20 at Florida, it appeared a star was born. The Lightning trailed 5-1 entering the third and Coleman came in for his second NHL appearance.
The former London Knight made several outstanding saves and, suddenly, the Lightning roared back to tie the game. It eventually lost in overtime, but it gained a much-needed point.
That's when talk swirled about Coleman.
"Our decisions with our goalies are going to be, as we've done most of the year, day to day,'' Tortorella said. "I thought Gerald certainly didn't hurt his cause in the way he played in Florida.''
Tortorella has since turned back to Grahame, who has responded well, and Coleman has been returned to Springfield.
Coleman, the first player from the league's diversity program to make it to the NHL, probably still is too young and too raw to be entrusted with helping the Lightning defend its Cup. But his day will come.
"We have big plans for him,'' Tortorella said.
32 KB Views: 1