LAFAYETTE, La. — As we begin to close the books on the 2017-18 regular season, the annual debate begins as we dish out awards to deserving teams and players in all kinds of different categories. We hand out trophies to the top teams, scorers, defensemen, goalies, and those deemed most valuable of their respective teams.
This is the time we name our favorites, our finalists for all sorts of end-of-season awards. It is at this time of year, without fail, in which some deserving souls fall through the cracks and do not receive the recognition they deserve. Sometimes it’s a guy like Olivier Archambault from the ECHL Allen Americans, who was on pace for a 117-point season before the American Hockey League came calling, or perhaps SPHL Peoria Rivermen rookie Mason Pulde, who has been putting up astronomical stats in goal (6-0-1, 1.22 GAA, .963 SV%) after arriving from the FHL.
Today, we discuss a player who has been taking both the ECHL and SPHL by storm, yet may wind up with zero accolades by the time the dust from awards season settles. Read on, as we make the improbable case for Macon/Evansville/Adirondack/Idaho goaltender Tomas Sholl.
Sholl, a rookie from Bowling Green who began the season with the SPHL Macon Mayhem, didn’t get his career off to the best of starts. Sholl started the season going 0-1-1 with Macon, getting traded to the Evansville Thunderbolts after the second weekend of the season.
The trade to Evansville was just what the Hermosa Beach, CA, native needed. Sholl would go on to win five of his first seven starts before being defeated in a 3-2 regulation loss to the Huntsville Havoc on December 2nd, 2017.
I emphasized regulation in the last paragraph for a reason. The loss on December 2nd – four months and three days ago – was the beginning of one of the most dominating stretches in any goaltender’s career. As of the time of this article, Sholl – through 29 games, three teams, and two leagues – has yet to lose another game in regulation. Since December 2nd, Sholl has racked up a 23-0-4 record with a 1.83 GAA, and a .939 save percentage with four shutouts.
Perhaps if Sholl played for the Peoria Rivermen, Florida Everblades, or the Toledo Walleye – teams atop their respective leagues/conferences – one could dismiss this stretch of excellence as being a cog in the wheel of a powerhouse team.
Not in Sholl’s case. Sholl’s teams include the 26-20-8 Evansville Thunderbolts, the 39-24-3-4 Adirondack Thunder, and the 43-20-4-3 Idaho Steelheads. All are playoff-bound teams, but not the kind of teams classified among league elites.
For most of the season, professional accolades eluded Sholl. While in Evansville and Adirondack, Sholl would not receive any player/goaltender of the week or month honors. However, when Sholl arrived in Boise, Idaho after being traded by Adirondack, Sholl (5-0-0-1 with the Thunder) would ride the bench until Steelheads starting netminder Philippe Desrosiers would get called up to the AHL Texas Stars.
Idaho would lose only one game in regulation since the Desrosiers call-up on March 7th – one of only two games Sholl didn’t appear in. With the Steelheads, Sholl would appear in 10 games, going 9-0-0-1 with four wins by shutout (including back-to-back blankings of the South Carolina Stingrays) with a GAA of 0.88 and a .967 SV%. Sholl would eventually become the first goaltender to win back-to-back ECHL Goaltender of the Week honors since December 2016 and is the current ECHL Goaltender of the Month.
Unfortunately, if you take a first glance at the ECHL’s goaltender statistics, Sholl’s gaudy numbers are nowhere to be found. Sholl, with only 1,025 minutes in net, falls between the ECHL’s statistical cracks. Sholl’s ECHL numbers (14-0-0-2, 1.35, .955) can only be found when removing the 1,380-minute pre-requisite for goaltender eligibility.
What this means is, when the ECHL hands out their awards, the Goaltender of the Year honors will likely fall to South Carolina’s Parker Milner (the league’s official leader with a 1.89 GAA, and a 2-0 victim of Sholl’s) or 36-game-winner Pat Nagle of the Toledo Walleye. Nagle, Milner, and Fort Wayne Komets forward Shawn Szydlowski are also among the front-runners for the ECHL Most Valuable Player Award.
Had Sholl’s combined SPHL/ECHL stat line for the 2017-18 season (38 GP, 28-3-5, 1.99 GAA, .934 SV%, 5 SO) been exclusively in the ECHL, then Sholl would easily be a front-runner for Goaltender of the Year and MVP honors. As I stated earlier, Sholl, unfortunately, falls through the statistical cracks.
The 2017-18 season has been the year of the scorer in the Southern Pro league. It’s entirely possible we could see the league’s first 70-point scorer in Knoxville’s Berkley Scott since Josh McQuade scored 79 points for Fayetteville five seasons ago. Should Macon’s Jake Trask get four points in the regular season’s final weekend, the SPHL would have two 70-point scorers since the 2011-12 season – the endpoint of the league’s offensive era.
Despite being away from the SPHL since his call-up to Adirondack on January 24th, Sholl remains the league leader in Goals Against Average (2.53) and Save Percentage (.917). Sholl’s 1211:51 minutes in net keeps him above the 1,110-minute eligibility benchmark, so a chance remains for Sholl to win Goaltender of the Year honors in the SPHL.
The most telling evidence for Sholl’s MVP candidacy in the SPHL is simple: The Evansville Thunderbolts were not the same team without Sholl between the pipes. When Sholl departed for Adirondack, the Bolts went 13 straight games, going 0-11-2, before finally registering their next win.
Statistically, it’s a day-and-night comparison for the Thunderbolts with and without Sholl.
Sholl has more wins than the rest of Evansville’s goaltenders combined. The Thunderbolts allow over one-and-a-half goals per game without Sholl in the pipes. The save percentage is a full 44 points lower. When I said day-and-night, I forgot to specify – daytime on Mercury, nighttime on Pluto – a solar-system-spanning difference.
Imagine if Sholl didn’t get called up to the ECHL. The Thunderbolts, currently sixth in the SPHL with 60 points, could conceivably be contending for a league championship. Extrapolate Sholl’s 14-3-3 SPHL record (a .775 points percentage, including stats with Macon) over the Bolts 13-game winless streak and the Thunderbolts would have 20 additional standings points. Assuming a 2-2 split with Peoria in the four games during Evansville’s 13-game skid, and the Bolts would have 76 points compared to 75 for league-leading Peoria.
That’s right, folks. The Evansville Thunderbolts would, at least mathematically, be leading the SPHL right now.
When you look at the astronomical difference Sholl has made for the Thunderbolts, the case shines as brightly as an Atomic Beam flashlight. Tomas Sholl – the best goaltender in two professional leagues over the same season – is the SPHL’s Most Valuable Player.