Yann Danis purchased a home in Edmond. Barons fans shouldn't interpret that as a guarantee Danis will be between the pipes next season at the Cox Convention Center.
The hottest goaltender in the American Hockey League the past two months, and the reigning AHL Goaltender of the Year, is unsure of his future.
Danis, 31, has options. He could return to OKC. He might play in Europe. His dream job is a backup gig in the NHL.
For now Danis' focus is to lead the Barons to the Calder Cup. Heading into Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals on Wednesday night at the Cox Center, the best-of-7 series against the Grand Rapids Griffins is tied 1-1.
In the West semifinals against top-seeded Texas, Stars goaltender Cristopher Nilstorp was the red-hot playoff goalie. Danis and the Barons won Game 1 2-1 in overtime. Nilstorp and the Stars won Game 2 by the same 2-1 score.
But when the series shifted to OKC, it was apparent which team had the superior goaltender. The Barons romped 4-0, 7-3 and 5-1.
“Everybody was talking about Nilstorp. Nobody was talking about Yann quite as much,” said Barons rookie defenseman Taylor Fedun. “As that series wore on, by the time we got to 30 or more shots (late in games), Nilstorp was kicking out rebounds. That's where we were able to capitalize.
“When you watched their offense, they'd work hard to get it all the way down the ice, get a shot on net and Yann would either swallow up a rebound or he'd get the puck to the side boards. It's crazy how big a difference that makes when you're playing defense.”
Danis' ability to limit rebounds gives the defensemen more incentive to advance the puck out of the defensive zone.
“If a shot goes by you, instead of it coming back in front of you and you have to battle for it, it's been either a whistle and a faceoff or you go into the corner to battle for it,” Fedun said. “As a defenseman, that's big for us. He's a master of his craft.”
Since he returned from a stint with the NHL's Edmonton Oilers on March 13, Danis is 18-6-3 with a 1.95 goals-against average and .929 save percentage.
“If you don't have a good goaltender, you're not going to win anything,” said veteran AHL defenseman Garrett Stafford. “He's pretty amazing. Sometimes I don't know how he gets it done. Sometimes you have no idea how he made a save. That's what you need to win a championship.”
Playing in Europe an option
Danis met his wife, Kyla, at Brown University. She was a tennis player from Barbados, a small island north of Venezuela.
“That probably was the best four years of my life,” Danis said. “That's where I met my wife. It was all because of hockey. My wife would love to come back here. I'd be happy here. We'll just have to weigh our options.”
His wife might sway her husband toward returning to OKC as long as the Oilers and Barons are interested in Danis serving as insurance if one of Edmonton's two goalies suffers an injury.
They have has two sons, Jayden, 4, and Ryder, 17 months. Last season they rented a house. This year they purchased a home.
“It's an investment and a great place to live during the season,” Danis said. “I said if I was going to play in the AHL, I wanted to come here. My wife and I really like it here; lots of things to do with the kids. The people are friendly. It's decent weather other than tornadoes. It's better than having snow all winter.”
Two years ago, Danis played in Russia. It was a lifetime experience, but once was enough. If Danis plays in Europe, it will be some place like Finland, Sweden or Switzerland.
“It was a different culture (in Russia),” Danis said. “There's definitely an adjustment period. No one speaks English. You have an interpreter, but it's not the same. It's difficult just to shop for groceries. It was hit or miss with the meat.”
Raised in Lafontaine, Quebec, 40 miles northwest of Montreal, Danis might have to reach a decision soon after the playoffs end.
“Yann still has lots of years left. It's what he wants to do with it and where he wants to play,” Nelson said. “He's had two great seasons for us. Every player has options. The longer we go, the more attention certain players will get from European teams.
“But European teams might give you a two-week window to make a decision. It can be hard on older players. We haven't even talked what direction we're going next year. From a player's standpoint, they want to take care of themselves and their family.”
Danis has played in 53 NHL games. But the bulk of his career has been in the minors (296 games, including the playoffs).
He was in Montreal's organization for four years. He's also played for the Islanders, Devils and Oilers.
“Obviously I'd prefer to be in the NHL,” Danis said. “I see Oklahoma City as an option, but it's not the only option. There's always Europe. It wouldn't be Russia. Been there, done that. They're all good leagues.”
Standing on his head
Standing on his head is a hockey term for a goaltender who's stopping everything, a brick wall between the pipes.
The term certainly applies to Danis since he returned from Edmonton, his confidence bolstered by a win over the Chicago Blackhawks where he entered as a midgame substitution.
Since he returned, Danis has allowed more than three goals in a game only twice his past 27 outings.
“It's a huge calming factor knowing he's back there,” Fedun said. “Things like how well he plays the puck, the way he talks in the D-zone, you can tell he's a veteran who has been around. He has so much poise. If things slip through the cracks, 99 percent of the time he's covering for us.”
Teammates and coaches notice subtle things like Danis avoiding screens in front of the net. Fans notice the highlight-reel saves.
The backdoor play or occasional rebound have been the only way opponents have gotten the puck past Danis in recent weeks. He smothers rebounds. First basemen would be envious of some of his glove saves.
Danis admits this one of the best stretches of his career.
“By far,” Danis said. “It starts with this has been the most games I've played. That's played a big role.”
Because the Barons were battling for a playoff berth until the very end Danis was in net 15 of 16 games down the stretch. He's started all 12 playoff games.
“When you know you're going to be in net the next game no matter what, it allows you to get into a rhythm,” Danis said. “Hopefully it can continue for another three weeks. The past two months have been a lot of fun. It would be awesome to win the Calder Cup.”
BARONS VS. GRAND RAPIDS
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Cox Convention Center
Tickets: Free to anyone that donates to the United Way Disaster Relief efforts. Assigned seats are on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Radio: KXXY-FM 96.1
Scouting report: The AHL Western Conference Finals series is tied 1-1. The Griffins won 2-1 in Game 1. The Barons won 4-2 in Game 2, getting an empty-net goal for their first two-goal lead in the series. ... The Barons outshot the Griffins 36-22 in Game 2, the first time in 13 playoffs games an opponent has outshot Grand Rapids. Shots were even (28-28) in Game 1. ... These are the two highest-scoring teams in the playoffs. OKC has scored 47 goals, the Griffins 42 but they've combined for nine goals the first two games. ... OKC has scored the only power play goal. ... The Barons have four of the top scorers in the Calder Cup playoffs: AHL All-Star Mark Arcobello (17 points, 10 goals); rookie Toni Rajala (15 points); Edmonton Oiler loaner Teemu Hartikainen (13); and team captain Josh Green (11). ... Grand Rapids has six of the top 20 scorers in the playoffs, but Tomas Tatar (13 points) is the only Griffin in the top 10. ... Both goalies have played well. OKC's Yann Danis has been red hot for two months, including the playoffs (8-4, 2.16 goals-against average and .933 save percentage). Grand Rapids' Petr Mrazek (8-5, 2.16, .912) has played well in 55 games for the Griffins.