Alex Stalock’s second concussion is disheartening for Blackhawks


Blackhawks goalie Alex Stalock has reentered concussion protocol after a collision in practice Monday.

AP Photo/Erin Hooley

At the Blackhawks’ soccer event with Petr Cech earlier this month, veteran goaltender Alex Stalock proved to be unquestionably the worst soccer player of the bunch. He blasted almost every kick over the net.

But he was also unquestionably the life of the party. He joked around with the Hawks teammates he knew well, and he joked around just as much with Cech and other team employees whom he didn’t know at all.

That’s just the kind of person Stalock is, and the Hawks love it. In a season with few tangible reasons for happiness, the unrestrained joy and humor that Stalock’s personality naturally spreads has made a big difference in the locker room.

“He’s a guy that if you want a laugh out of, you just ask him a question, and you’re bound to be laughing a couple seconds later,” Patrick Kane said recently. “He has been great.”

Stalock has been great on the ice, too. His 6-6-1 record, .918 save percentage and plus-9.5 goals saved above average (GSAA) are extremely impressive in context. Entering Tuesday, all other Hawks goalies combined were 5-20-3 with an .885 save percentage and minus-9.5 GSAA.

So for those reasons, the news Tuesday that Stalock had re-entered concussion protocol — for the second time this season — was equal parts concerning and demoralizing.

The 35-year-old Minnesotan has dealt with terrible health luck for years now. Just when he had established his reputation as a stellar backup and sometimes even “1B” goalie for the Wild from 2017 to 2020, myocarditis — the COVID-19-connected heart condition — nearly ended his career and kept him out of the NHL for almost two full seasons.

And just when he’d rejuvenated his career and become arguably a “1A” goalie this season with the Hawks, these concussion issues — the first in his lifetime — popped up.

Stalock missed seven weeks after suffering the initial head injury during a Nov. 1 collision with Islanders forward Casey Cizikas. He returned just before Christmas and made five starts, then missed a couple games last week with an illness before entering Saturday’s contest in relief of Petr Mrazek.

Then on Monday, minutes into his first full practice since recovering from the illness, an unintentional collision with defenseman Jarred Tinordi knocked him down hard. He bounced right back up and finished practice, but evidently later felt concussion symptoms return.

Hawks coach Luke Richardson said Stalock would be checked out closely by doctors Tuesday night.

“You never know how things react with people, but we’re just going to take precaution and…hopefully it settles down quicker than last time,” Richardson added.

Stalock struggled with recurring setbacks in November, which sometimes left him unable to get off his couch. He clearly worried about the potential long-term implications of his concussion, something not every NHL player seems to do.

“The Internet is good for some stuff, but there’s some stuff it’s not great for, and concussions [are] one not-ideal thing to go diving into,” he said Dec. 20. “You end up [reading] some stuff you probably don’t want to read.

“Anybody with a concussion nowadays obviously knows what can happen and the studies that have been out. Medically, we take it day by day.”

How he fares health-wise this time might not be known for a while. The Hawks, though, will probably fare poorly.

With Arvid Soderblom still sidelined in Rockford by a groin injury, the Hawks’ current goalie duo consists of Mrazek and prospect Jaxson Stauber, who has never played an NHL game.

Not having Stalock’s puckhandling and passing abilities — which made him resemble at times a soccer-style “sweeper keeper,” even if his actual soccer skills were subpar — could make life harder for Hawks defensemen. And yet again not having Stalock’s larger-than-life personality livening up the room could be deflating, as well.

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