Goalie Casey key to surge by North Stars

April 28, 1991|By John Glibert | John Glibert,Minneapolis Star Tribune

BROOMINGTON, MINN. — BLOOMINGTON, Minn. -- On the ice, Minnesota North Stars goaltender Jon Casey is liberal: He dives, he lunges, he scrambles and he gambles. Off the ice, Casey is conservative: A fast-paced summer vacation is out of the question.

Because of Casey's superb play, however, the North Stars' summer vacation grows shorter with each Stanley Cup playoff game.

Casey helped carry the North Stars to an upset of the National Hockey League regular-season champion Chicago Blackhawks in six games and to a 3-2 lead over the St. Louis Blues in the best-of-seven Norris Division finals.

Casey, who spent a minor-league season with the Baltimore Skipjacks six years ago, has moved to the top of every goaltending statistic for the playoffs. Before Friday's game, he led in goals-against average (2.36) and save percentage (.915), and was tied for the lead in victories (six, with Boston's Andy Moog and Edmondton's Grant Fuhr) and shutouts (one, with four others).

Casey's goals-against average is impressive for nine games, but consider that he has yielded an average of 1.86 goals in the past seven games. Casey finished off the Blackhawks with 3-1, 6-0 and 3-1 victories, then opened with a 2-1 victory in St. Louis. The Blues won the next game, 5-2, but Casey reverted to form in Monday night's 5-1 victory at Met Center before Friday's 4-2 loss.

Casey listens to comments about his hot streak, then patiently amends them. "The team has played very good hockey in those games," he said. "They're working hard, and out defensive play has become a team thing. If we don't have that, maybe the rebound goes to them and they put it in the net. I'm just doing a part of it."

PTC North Stars coach Bob Gainey said Casey always has been dependable in the playoffs. "Casey is a goaltender who must be aggressive in the net, and he not a textbook goaltender," Gainey said. "You can't map his moves and sell them to youth hockey. He depends on instincts, moves and competitiveness."

Casey chuckled when told of Gainey's assessment. "I try to stand up and be in position," Casey said. "Those are the two most important textbook things. . . . I don't challenge as much as I used to. I used to be very aggressive."

Casey sometimes --es out of the net to fling 60-foot passes or dive to poke-check away before shooters can react, but his daring manner is distinctly the opposite of his office personality.

His summer vacation consists of taking his wife, Brenda Lee, daughter Krista, 7, and sons Jonathan Jr., 6, and Joshua, 3, to Cass Lake, Minn., near Bemidji. There, they park their travel trailer on a leased lot at a resort where he can do some boating and fishing. "No phones," Casey said. "A lot of retired people stay at the resort. Nice people. We enjoy playing cards and visiting with them."

This summer, Casey said, perhaps counting on some playoff bonus money, he might join a public golf course in Bemidji, too. And one more thing: He might break down and buy a recording of Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode."

Berry's song has become popular at the Met Center these days, although it's sometimes difficult to hear. Whenever the song comes on after an especially good play by Casey, the fans drown it out in a raucous sing-along.

"I sure could hear 'em [Monday night]," Casey said. "It's a great feeling, but I don't want to get too excited about the fans. You can get too carried away and forget what's happening on the ice."

Casey seldom gets carried away off the ice. Some goalies have legendary rituals. Not Casey. Although he prefers a game-day breakfast of Cheerios and peanut butter-and-honey sandwiches, and a pre-game meal of barbecued beef with corn and baked potatoes, he has settled for spaghetti off the buffet now that the team is staying hotels for the playoffs.

As for other rituals, he said: "I come in the east door to our dressing room every day -- but only because that's the only door open. If they opened the door at the west end, I wouldn't have to walk as far."

Casey helped North Dakot win the 1982 National Collegiate Athletic Association championship and earned All-America honors.

After college, the North Stars gave him a chance as a free agent. He was on loan to Baltimore, then a Pittsburgh Penguins affiliate, during the 1984-85 season, when he led the American Hockey League in shutouts (four) and goals-against average (2.63), playing in 46 games.

But amid coaching and front-office upheavals, Casey was relegated to what seemed to be minor-league obscurity before former general manager Jack Ferreira rescued him two years ago. His 1989-90 season was strong, and this season was even better. But his current rise has the whole league buzzing.

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