Dan Sullivan has seen more rubber than the workers at your local tire factory.
The Texas Tornado net-minder finished the regular season leading the entire 19-team North American Hockey League in saves with 1,575. Ranked as the number one goalie in the NAHL by Goalies’ World Magazine, Dan’s 22 victories tied him for third place among the league’s goalies during the 58-game regular season that ran from mid-September through the end of March.
Of utmost importance to the Tornado, Sullivan has been the team’s most consistent player in its topsy-turvy 2009-10 season. The 6-foot-2 butterfly style puck-stopper literally stole a handful of games for a team that was an ongoing work in progress. The 21-year old Sullivan’s steadfast play in the crease enabled the Tornado to overcome a mid-season slump and earn a third place finish in the North American Hockey’s Southern Division.
With “Sully” standing tall between the pipes in his 51 appearances and compiling a 3.08 goals against average and .912 save percentage, the team’s General Manager and Coach Tony Curtale continuously fine-tuned his defensive and forward squads. Indeed, the Tornado resembled a team seeking to find its true identify after returning from a one year hiatus due to a makeover of its home rink – the Frisco Dr. Pepper Star Center in Frisco, a suburb of Dallas, Texas. The franchise is highlighted by Gold Cup National Championships in 2004, 2005 and 2006, and NAHL titles in 2001, 2004, 2005 and 2006.
“I feel like I’ve played a lot of games and have really improved as far as my consistency and confidence are concerned,” said Sullivan, a native of York, Pennsylvania who hopes to earn a scholarship at an NCAA Division I school for next year. “With respect to my personal growth, going to college full time is preparing me for next year. I have become more responsible and feel that the transition from junior to college hockey will be smooth.”
The NAHL, which began operations in 1975 when the Michigan and Wolverine Junior Leagues formed the Great Lakes Junior Hockey League and became the NAHL nine years later, is a Junior A league affiliated with USA Hockey.
According to its website, its “primary goal is to enhance the development of its players through top-quality coaching, extensive practice time and a rigorous game schedule.” The league’s players are held to a very strict code of conduct, and are expected to honor curfew and academic rules. Sullivan, for example, attended classes at a local college, and he also took online courses.
“The schedule was very manageable, although it was a little harder when full time college classes started in January,” he said. “Time management was a key in keeping up with school, hockey and sleep. The road trips were fun, especially when we traveled to Alaska (to play the Fairbanks Ice Dogs) and Wenatchee (Washington to play the Wild).
“And, my experience with my host family in Frisco has been absolutely amazing,” he added. “The mom and dad have been very supportive and helpful to me the entire time, and it has been great living with (the couple’s) two younger boys (2nd and a 6th grade student athletes), since I have an older sister in my own family. I couldn’t have asked for a better host family.”
Sullivan’s online coursework included Critical Thinking, Psychology and Business curricula.
“The Psychology classes interested me the most, because the capacities of the human mind are unbelievable,” he noted. “And, in the sport of hockey, especially in my position, the game is almost all mental. When your mind is right, anything is possible.”
Judging by his first two NAHL playoff games during the weekend of April 2-3, Sullivan should be a candidate for MENSA. The soft-spoken puck-stopper turned aside 76 of 79 shots as the third place Tornado stunned second seed and host St. Louis in winning the first two games of the best-of-five Southern Division opening round series.
Sullivan did his impersonation of the China Wall in Game 1, stopping 40 shots, including 15 in a dizzying but scoreless 3rd period to earn the triumph. After surrendering a pair of goals less than nine minutes into the game, Dan slammed the goalmouth door thereafter.
Offensively, teammate Jamie Howard halved the lead on a power play with less than five minutes remaining in the opening period. Nick Taurence tied the score early in the second stanza before Howard netted his second of the night with :03 left in the middle frame to give Texas the lead for good, 3-2. The Tornado, which managed only 13 shots in the game, killed off a 5-on-3 man disadvantage midway through the 3rd period.
In game 2, Howard again lit the lamp on a first period power play, and Shane Sooth made it 2-0 later in the opening frame for an early Tornado lead. Sullivan surrendered his only goal on a power play midway through the third period before Texas forward Jack Prince hit the empty net later in the session for a 3-1 Texas victory. Sullivan finished the game with 36 saves.
“I think the Game 2 victory this was the biggest win of the season because it put us up two games, both coming in their rink,” said Sullivan, who will be back in goal for Game 3 Wednesday night in Frisco. “But we have to be careful because the Bandits have a lot of speed and talent, and they are challenging to play against.”