Even-keeled approach distinguishes Darcy Kuemper

Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Non-superstitious Kuemper is ready to embrace his new role with the Minnesota Wild

Hockey fans are well acquainted with the bizarre behavior and attitudes that are often attributed to goalies. In fact, most goalies won't even do interviews on game day.

Minnesota Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom's pre-game "turtle walk" is well known by media members and fans alike. Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo takes a walk along the seawall in Vancouver before home games.

Former Aero, now Abbotsford Heat goalie Barry Brust taps his goalie pads continuously during face-offs. Washington Capital's goalie Braden Holtby has so many rituals that it's best to just link to this story that has them all listed.

But Darcy Kuemper, who's been shuttling back and forth between the Wild and their developmental team the Houston Aeros since February, has a different type of goalie attitude.

When asked about Backstrom's pre-game rituals, Kuemper stated, "He's got a lot of rituals. I'm pretty easy going on that stuff so I haven't picked up any of those habits yet."

Rituals aren't the only goalie stereotype that Kuemper doesn't seem to follow. Often, goalies get the reputation of being aloof or even crazy. This comes with the territory of playing a position that is commonly referred to as being 90% mental, 10% physical. Aeros fans gifted him with the nickname "The Sunshine Kid" due to his always pleasant demeanor and infectious bubbly personality.

The last 48 hours of Kuemper's life would have been enough to shake any goalie up. He went from participating in an Aeros team practice almost directly to the Houston airport with only his equipment bag on trade deadline day, and no idea where he was heading.

It soon became clear that the Minnesota Wild were either trading him or teammate, friend, and fellow goalie Matt Hackett to Buffalo. Hours later Kuemper landed in San Jose, officially becoming the Wild's back-up goalie and ending the almost season-long grind of shuttling between the Aeros and the Wild.

24 hours later, Kuemper was pulled from the bench in relief of Backstrom, who had let in two goals on two shots against the reigning Stanley Cup champion LA Kings.

When asked about how he stays mentally sharp on the bench in case he gets put in net mid-game, Kuemper says that the best way to prepare is to be consistent in practice.

"If you approach practice like it's a game, I find that you avoid a lot of the ups and downs of your game. If you work hard in practice consistently it will translate to games. So I just try to bring my game the same way every time I'm on the ice regardless of if it's a game, pre-game skate or practice. I find that helps a lot, just with the consistency of my game and if you do get thrown in you're kind of ready because it's always the same thing every time you step on the ice."

Kuemper faced 12 shots and saved 11 of them, including 2 power play shots, in the 3-0 loss to the Kings last night.

Kuemper understands what it's like to be pulled during a game as well. The night before he flew to Los Angeles, he was pulled halfway through the 2nd period of the Aeros game after allowing 3 goals to the Grand Rapid Griffins.

Often, even relatively easy-going goalies are frustrated and visibly upset after being pulled. Wild goaltender Josh Harding (currently on injured reserve), another goaltender known for his easy going personality, broke his goal stick on the tunnel wall after being pulled in a game against the Chicago Blackhawks earlier this season.

"When I get pulled, I'm less mad at myself and more disappointed, I feel like I let down the guys. Last game I didn't feel like I was playing bad, but it was a few bad breaks and sometimes coaches will take the goalie out to change things up," Kuemper said.

"You just try to come back the next day whether it's a game, practice or pre-game skate come with the mentality that you're going to get better and shake it off. You have to have a short memory and touch back on the times that you were successful and use those."

It seems Kuemper will be dressing in a Wild jersey for the rest of the season, unless there is a drastic change in Josh Harding's MS condition.

After being out for nearly 2 months with medication adjustments, Harding recently started practicing again. With only three weeks left in the regular season and most likely a needed two-week rehab stint in Houston, time is running out for Harding to get back between the pipes this season.

Kuemper is now the Wild's only NHL-ready prospect, he'll get invaluable experience from backing up Backstrom while the Wild attempt to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2008-2009 season.

In Kuemper's own words, "It's a really good experience. He's such a good goalie, one of the hottest in the league right now. So when a young guy like me, I get the opportunity to be on the ice with him, I just try to watch him as much as I can and pick up parts of his game and see how he acts on and off the ice and just try to emulate that in myself."

Despite the ups and downs over the years, the Wild have been blessed between the pipes. Kuemper continues that tradition of having solid starts and backups ready to go at any time. With expectations for the team higher than ever, they'll need that every night.

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