Mark Guggenberger just had the kind of week kids on frozen ponds dream about. The Texas Brahmas rookie, who grew up playing hockey outdoors in Richfield, Minn., turned 23 on Jan. 10. The next night, he played in the Central Hockey League All-Star Game.
All the rookie netminder did with his moment on the big stage was turn in a dream performance -- entering in the second period and stopping 35 of 36 shots to earn the victory.
"I've been lucky enough to have good numbers this year, and it helps gives you confidence going against any team in the league," said Guggenberger, who is in his first season of professional hockey after playing one season at the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) in Canada.
The numbers suggest he's been better than lucky. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Guggenberger leads the league in goals-against average (2.28) and is sixth in save percentage (.918). But what stands out most to coach Dan Wildfong is his goalie's 9-4-2 record.
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"He's not just doing that -- making saves and stopping shots," Wildfong said. "He's getting the results. He's getting wins."
A quick study
Guggenberger's getting wins while, at the same time, adjusting to being a professional athlete.
On a recent morning Guggenberger could have passed for a college student in an outfit of black canvas shoes, jeans, woven hooded sweatshirt and orange cap. Much like a typical college experience, he has no car and lives with teammates in an apartment complex in Northlake near the Texas Motor Speedway. But in the CHL, there are no classes to attend or tests to cram for.
"I can just wake up and come over here and focus on improving my game and getting in my workouts and not have to study," Guggenberger said.
Guggenberger, though, is proving to be a quick study in the rink.
"He's doing a good job for us as a young guy coming in," Wildfong said. "He's a professional. He's come in and done the work and is taking care of what he needs to do to advance in this game."
UPEI coach Forbes MacPherson, Wildfong's former assistant with the Brahmas, said he isn't surprised by the goalie's success this season.
The level of the play in the CHL is comparable to major college hockey, MacPherson said. But the pro season crams in almost twice as many games. Guggenberger's combination of toughness, endurance and competitiveness provides a distinct advantage, the coach said.
"The obvious first thing about him is his size; he's a big kid who can cover a lot of net," said MacPherson, who recommended the player he calls "Googs" to the Brahmas last summer when Guggenberger decided to turn pro. "The second thing about him is he's a warrior. He prepares to play a hockey game like it's the last game he's ever going to play. He's a gamer and always rises to the occasion."
Guggenberger showed that each-game-is-the-last intensity late in the second period of the CHL All-Star Game. A well-placed backdoor pass set up an Arizona Sundogs player for what appeared to be an easy scoring chance. But Guggenberger sprawled out on the ice to block the shot as the buzzer went off to end the period.
"We had guys on my team patting me on the pads as well as guys from the other team," Guggenberger said. "So it must have been a good save."
About the only thing that seems to be missing from Guggenberger's stellar season so far is a shutout. He's only given up one goal in several starts but has so far has been unable to hold the other team scoreless.
"Goalies don't talk about shutouts," Guggenberger said. "It's a superstition we have. The bottom line is [fellow goalie Steve] Silverthorn and I both go out trying to give the team a chance to win every night."
Guggenberger's play has positioned the Brahmas in the thick of the playoff race. But he'll have to settle for cheering on his teammates for the time being after injuring his wrist against Rio Grande Valley in his first start after the all-star game. He is expected to miss two weeks.
Wildfong said he doesn't think the time off with hurt Guggenberger: "He's gaining confidence as he has success, as all players do. And the guys in front of him are playing well, too."
This isn't the goalie's first painful experience on the ice. Guggenberger lost his first permanent tooth during an after-school pickup game when he was 11 or 12.
"It got knocked out when I was playing outdoor hockey," Guggenberger said. "Somebody's stick came up and ended up knocking it out. My mom wasn't happy about that."
Unlike his mother, the young goalie took the gap in his smile in stride, and he can't seem to hide his wide smile as he muses about what the future might hold. The first goal is to lead the Brahmas deep in the playoffs. And after that?
"I'm only signed here for this season, so after that it's whatever gets me closer to the next level," he said. "Everyone's goal is to play in the NHL."
It would be the kind of career kids on frozen ponds dreams about.