SAN JOSE, Calif. – It wasn’t clear if goalie Alex Stalock would ever be able to play again.
A skate sliced the back of his left leg during a game in the minors in 2011, severing a nerve and dropping a cloud of uncertainty over his career, the surgical process and ensuing recovery.
But what wasn’t in question during the ordeal was the support from the Sharks, who re-signed Stalock while he was sidelined — a gesture that made Sunday’s reunion extra meaningful.
“I thank this organization for doing everything they did to get me to where I am,” Stalock said.
Stalock made his first appearance against his former team in the Wild’s California road trip finale, a return to San Jose that the 30-year-old enjoyed.
Drafted by the Sharks in the fourth round (112th overall) in 2005, Stalock was with the organization until it traded him to the Maple Leafs in 2016. Before then, he made his NHL debut, set a franchise record for longest shutout streak and earned a Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy nomination for his perseverance after getting stepped on by an opponent’s skate.
In addition to giving him another contract, the Sharks made sure he got back home to Minnesota and took their time in selecting the right doctor to perform the surgery.
“The organization signed me to a contract knowing I wasn’t going to play any hockey [for a long time],” Stalock said. “That’s really special. I don’t know how many organizations would do that. Definitely pretty remarkable what they did for me.”
Back in the mix
Center Matt Cullen returned to the lineup after sitting as a healthy scratch for the first time this season Friday.
Cullen had one goal and six points before taking a seat and hadn’t scored in 16 games.
“It’s easy to be a good leader and good teammate when things are going well,” Cullen said. “But I think your real character comes out when you go through struggles. I’m just going to do my best to be a good teammate and when called upon, I’ll do my best on the ice.”
Adjusting to the Wild’s style after spending the past two seasons with the Penguins has been a challenge, Cullen said, but he’s felt more comfortable of late. Before being a spectator Friday, the 41-year-old helped set up winger Tyler Ennis’ goal in the 5-2 loss to the Kings on Tuesday.
Against the Sharks, Cullen was reunited with Ennis, with Joel Eriksson Ek filling out the line.
“I thought we were generating offense and controlling the play, generating some momentum for our team,” he said. “I think as a fourth line, that’s your job is to try to generate energy and momentum for your team. If you can chip in offensively, that’s great and we did.”
Defenseman Gustav Olofsson was also back in action after being scratched the past three games, joining Nate Prosser on the third pairing with Mike Reilly sitting out.
“It hasn’t been easy,” Olofsson said about being in and out of the lineup. “But it’s part of the game. It’s something I’ve been able to adjust to this year. I think the biggest thing is you just want to stay in, and that helps you play better once you get that first game. It’s an opportunity every time.”
Winger Zach Parise continues to skate as he recovers from back surgery that alleviated pressure on a nerve causing leg pain and weakness, while defenseman Jared Spurgeon, who has been sidelined since Nov. 27 because of a groin strain, started skating Friday.
Coach Bruce Boudreau isn’t sure when either will be ready to rejoin the group.
“I hope it’s soon,” he said. “We obviously miss them.”