Dustin Wolf high fives fans during the AHL All-Star events in San Jose earlier this month. Photo: Jonathan Natividad
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Gilroy native Dustin Wolf, whose family lived in Morgan Hill during his early years and whose extended family includes many Live Oak alumni, has starred in the American Hockey League and competed in 18 games for the National Hockey League’s Calgary Flames.

Wolf has twice been named AHL goalie of the year and also received the AHL MVP award for 2023. Many observers believe he has been NHL-ready for a year or so, but the Flames’ goalie room has been full with Jacob Markstrom and Dan Vladar under contract and performing well. Wolf always expressed patience, wisely viewing that opportunities would likely open at some point soon. And now they have.

On June 19, Calgary traded Markstrom to the New Jersey Devils for defenseman Kevin Bahl and a 2025 first-round draft pick. With this trade, the door is wide open for Wolf to claim a slot on the Flames’ roster and become a regular in the NHL. 

Most analysts see Wolf and Vladar sharing games for Calgary in the upcoming season, an excellent launching point for the 23-year old Wolf.

“My objective is to play as many games as I can and help the team,” Wolf said earlier this year, referring to AHL or NHL competition. “If I get the call (up to the NHL again), I’ll do what I can do.”

In addition to the AHL success, Wolf made the most of brief call ups to the NHL this past season. They came when one of Markstrom or Vladar was injured. 

Wolf played in 17 NHL games for Calgary, with an 8-8-1 record, a 3.03 goals-against average and a save percentage of .896. The numbers are solid, especially given that the Flames struggled this past year, finishing 17 points behind the last of eight Western Conference playoff teams. 

Additionally, by the point in the season when Wolf was playing, Calgary’s rebuild had resulted in trades of three of its best defensemen—Nikita Zadorov, Chris Tanev and Noah Hanifin.

The rebuild’s trades were a big part of why Markstrom indicated a desire to also be dealt. Markstrom, at age 34, stated he was reluctant to ride out a lengthy upward climb, and also was generally against being in a shared situation at goalie. Thus the trade to the Devils works for him and lines things up well for Wolf, recently named by The Athletic as the fifth-best young goalie around. 

The view in Calgary is that the “goalie of the future” has arrived.

Vladar has experience, though not extensive, having played in a total of 77 NHL games. He was generally viewed as Markstrom’s backup in Calgary and logged 46 games with the Flames in the last two years. Vladar was sidelined late in the past season with an injury that required major hip surgery. Injury rehabilitation is part of the reasoning that suggests both Vladar and Wolf will share playing time in the 2024-25 campaign.

Wolf was a seventh-round pick by Calgary in 2019, and the organization has been building him up to be a full-time player in its future. 

Vladar fits the more common goalie stereotype, being 6-foot-5, 207 pounds. Wolf, at 6-feet, 166 pounds, is on the small side of today’s goalies. Yet he has had success at all levels of play, relying on quickness, vision, reading plays and amazing agility. 

Wolf’s trademark move before games is a full-body jump in the air, part of his readiness routine that also indicates his athleticism.

Wolf finished the 2023-24 season with four consecutive victories. The future now shows many more may be on tap. As the Calgary Herald stated, this is an opportunity for the Flames’ “goaltender-of-the-future” to be their “goaltender-of-right-now.”

“My chances will come,” Wolf said a few months ago. “You want to play at the highest level. I hope that door opens at some point.”

That door is now open.

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