With the news that Wild goalie Josh Harding has been feeling "off" for the last few days, the Wild called Houston Aeros goaltender Darcy Kuemper up to possibly face the Vancouver Canucks tonight. Kuemper is currently riding an impressive hot streak. He last played Saturday against the Rockford Ice Hogs (Chicago Blackhawks affiliate) and made 38 saves to grab his fourth shutout of the season. Per the Aeros PR department, Kuemper is 5-2-0-0 in his last five games with a 1.29 goals against average and .958 save percentage. He is currently tied for second overall in the AHL for GAA and SV%. He is overall 10-6-0 this season with Houston.
Last season Kuemper played back up to Matt Hackett for most of the year. The goalie situation with Aeros has been very similar to that of the Wild, with two really great goalies who continually battle for starts. Hackett won most of those battles last year, as well as the beginning of this season. But Kuemper has been very impressive after getting his moment to shine in net the last few weeks. Like most other Wild players, Kuemper has had his struggles. After being recalled the Aeros in the fall of 2011, he went 6-6-4 before an injury to his shoulder required surgery and ended his season. Kuemper spent all summer recovering and getting back into playing shape, and was finally cleared for play just before Aeros training camp started at the end of September. He played a few rough games in Orlando towards the beginning of the season, but obviously has been playing better recently.
Kuemper has had some impressive stats in his short career. He has never registered a SV% lower than .89% in a professional league, and has made an average of 26.25 saves a start this season. While playing for the Red Deer Rebels (WHL) during the 2010-2011 season, he was awarded the Top Goaltender and Player of the Year awards, as well as named to the First All-Star Team. He grabbed thirteen shutouts that season as well.
Andrew (main Aeros writer for Hockey Wilderness) added this in the discussion about Kuemper;
After his second year with Red Deer, Kuemper got his first look with the Aeros when the Wild’s AHL affiliate was battling injuries (shocking, I know) down the stretch of a lost 2009-10 season.
The lanky goalie made his AHL debut against the Chicago Wolves on March 31, 2010, stopping all four shots he saw in a 4-0 loss at Toyota Center. Wade Dubielewicz allowed four goals in the first two periods, and Kuemper’s strong showing earned him the next three starts from then Aeros head coach Kevin Constantine.
On April 2, 2010, in a rematch with the Wolves, Kuemper picked up his first win with a 4-3 victory over the Wolves at Toyota Center. The rookie was magnificent in that game and earned first-star honors in front of nearly 10,000 fans in Houston.
"It’s a great feeling," Kuemper said after the win that night. "I didn’t even know if I would get any playing time when I got called up, and I go in and get my first win. It’s an amazing feeling. I’m on cloud nine."
Still rolling, Constantine gave Kuemper the green light against the Texas Stars the following night. In his first road game, Kuemper improved to 2-0 and allowed just two goals.
For a young goalie still destined for more work in juniors, Kuemper did more than enough to impress the Wild brass and Aeros coaches.
Kuemper made one last start against the Rockford IceHogs on April 6, 2010, and he suffered his first loss against the Blackhawks primary affiliate. Corey Crawford made 22 saves to steal the show, but Kuemper’s first stint with the Aeros was a success.
One very important thing to remember through today is that Kuemper is still very young. Most goalies do not start finding their grove until they are in their late twenties. Kuemper is only twenty two. If there are some mistakes tonight (and the likelihood is pretty high that there will be some mistakes on his part), don’t hold it against the kid. Make sure to check out the article that Justin over at The Goalie Guild did on Kuemper in October as well.