Breaking His Way
From Georgia to Anchorage, Chris Kamal Finds a Home
by Joshua Berhow/CHN Writer
ST. PAUL, Minn. It is not difficult to pinpoint when Alaska-Anchorage goaltender Chris Kamal’s luck began to change.
Alexandria Blizzard coach Doc DelCastillo, then in his first year in the North American Hockey League after having recently parted ways with Alaska (Fairbanks), received a phone call from a friend during the fall of 2009. The friend gave DelCastillo a tip on a player in desperate need of a crease to call his own.
“There’s a guy down in the Atlanta area that’s pretty good that got hurt,” DelCastillo recalls his friend telling him. “Why don’t you have him come to one of your camps?”
DelCastillo complied, giving Kamal, a player badly in need of a break, a chance.
Kamal, from Alpharetta, Ga., not only had his geography against him, but he was battling back from a broken leg he suffered after a freak accident while working a construction job in 2008. The rehabilitation took longer than expected, and as Kamal sat out for what turned into a year-long stint — he had a third surgery on his leg in January of 2009 — the interest from numerous Division III schools and a handful of DI schools dwindled away.
That’s when he got a break — a good kind. Well, a couple of breaks.
Kamal received an invite to the Atlanta Thrashers’ prospect camp, where he impressed certain people enough to have one of them eventually call DelCastillo, who then made a call to Kamal. Try telling this kid from Georgia that NHL hockey in the Sunbelt is a bad idea.
“Doc called me up and said he couldn’t give me any promises but would give me a tryout,” Kamal said. “I basically had to go up there and make the team. I had to start from scratch.”
DelCastillo remembers the tryout vividly.
“He came to two camps that summer and basically didn’t give up a goal,” DelCastillo said. “He showed he was more than capable of being on the team.”
And just like that, a 19-year-old who spent a crucial year of his development rehabilitating his leg and looking for a home, found one.
Midway into his season with the Blizzard — a season where Kamal picked up 21 of the team’s 30 regular-season wins — the Seawolves came calling and landed Kamal as one of their three goaltenders on their roster. Just last weekend Kamal backstopped the Seawolves to their second WCHA Final Five appearance in school history with a pair of wins against Minnesota in the first round of the WCHA playoffs at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis.
“He was someone who was dying for an opportunity, and Alaska-Anchorage had the opportunity and he ran with it,” DelCastillo said. “Once he got his foot in the door with an opportunity he made the most of it. It doesn’t surprise me one bit.”
Kamal, a 5-foot-9, 186-pound freshman, stopped 20 shots in the Seawolves’ 4-3 win Friday against the Gophers and then turned away 24 shots for his third shutout of the season in his team’s 2-0 win Saturday.
After beginning the season splitting time with fellow freshman Rob Gunderson, Kamal has started the last five games, all of which were UAA wins.
Kamal, who said his leg doesn’t bother him on the ice anymore, allowed five goals and shut out his opponents twice in the five-game span and is 8-1 since he was in net for the Seawolves’ 1-0 win over the Gophers on Jan. 29 in Minneapolis. He owns a 2.48 goals against average and .901 save percentage and has earned a team-best nine wins between the pipes.
His squad will be the No. 5 seed and face fourth-seeded Colorado College at 7:07 p.m. Thursday in the Final Five quarterfinals at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The only other time the Seawolves reached the Final Five was during the 2003-04 season, and at that time Kamal was playing Bantams hockey at the national tournament in Burlington, Vt.
“Everyone knows if we play the way we need to play we can beat any team,” Kamal said. “Everyone is really buying into it, and we’re playing for each other.”
Although Gunderson has started all five of UAA’s games against the Tigers this season (the Seawolves have won three of the five), it will likely be Kamal braced in the crease Thursday, trying to lead his team to two more wins to advance to what would be its first-ever championship game Saturday.
And all he needed was a break or two to get there.
“It’s one of those situations where he’s risen to the occasion for the opportunity that’s been given to him,” said UAA coach Dave Shyiak. “He was the right fit for us.”