Thursday was a pretty good day for aspiring NHL goaltender Shane Starrett.
The Wichita Thunder rookie was selected for the ECHL All-Star Classic and will represent the Mountain Division in a four-team 3-on-3 tournament Jan. 15 in Indianapolis.
He also got a blast from the not-so-distant past.
The Thunder were depleted by injuries and suspensions and needed a few more bodies for practice. Starrett recommended Air Force teammate Tyler Rostenkowski, who graduated last season and was stationed nearby.
Rostenkowski had his gear with him, and the former Falcons reunited on the ice.
“I’ve gotten pretty used to this lifestyle, but I miss the guys and the team,” Starrett said. “Those were some of the best friends I’ve ever had.”
But does he regret his decision to turn pro after two successful seasons at Air Force?
“No,” he said with a chuckle.
“I had two good options, represent my country or follow my dream. It was a win-win situation.”
Starrett racked up the conference awards as he led the Falcons within a goal of the 2017 NCAA Frozen Four.
Then, the NHL came calling.
Allowed to leave Air Force due to a Department of Defense policy that allows students to leave after their sophomore year without penalty, he signed a two-year contract with the Edmonton Oilers on April 10.
“He had to make a tough decision, and he wanted to be a pro,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said. “With his size and athleticism, I don’t blame him. I hope he makes it all the way.”
A few weeks after he made that choice, the Air Force ruled athletes will not be given a waiver from active duty to immediately play professional sports after graduation.
One of Starrett’s first priorities was bulking up. He’s listed at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, up from 195 before his sophomore year at Air Force. He skated with NHL stars in training camp, then was eventually assigned to the Thunder.
He’s 10-2-2 in 16 appearances with a 2.52 goals-against average, and fifth in the 27-team ECHL with a 0.926 save percentage.
“He’s doing what he’s dreamed of doing since he was 10 years old,” former Falcons teammate Kyle Mackey said. “If that organization gives him opportunities to play in big games, he’s going to strive.”
Starrett was named ECHL Rookie of the Month in November, going 4-1-2 with a 1.68 goals-against average.
He split time evenly with two-time Kelly Cup championship winner Joel Rumpel, a Hobey Baker finalist at Wisconsin, and works with Edmonton’s goaltending coach one week out of the month.
“They like what they’re seeing in me, and that’s always a good sign,” Starrett said. “They help me improve so I can keep climbing the ladder.”
He earned his first call up to the American Hockey League – one rung below the NHL - and spent two weeks there, making 44 saves and allowing three goals in a 5-2 road loss Dec. 9 for the Bakersfield Condors at the home of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs.
“It was cool experience to see that level of play, the pageantry,” Starrett said. “It was good to get one game under my belt, shake off the nerves and settle in.
“They’re making plays that you wouldn’t see in college hockey. In college, guys will make the safer play.”
One thing that took some getting used to was the reintroduction of fighting. Last week in Allen, Texas, a multiplayer brawl broke out during warmups.
“It was almost something out of a movie,” Starrett said.
Off the ice, he has gotten used to focusing on hockey full-time, and continues to keep up with his former teammates and coaches.
“I hated to see him go, but it’s a good opportunity for him,” Falcons junior forward Evan Feno said. “He doesn’t do a whole lot besides lay in bed and play hockey, but he’s enjoying himself. I think it suits him well.”
And there were absolutely no hard feelings as the Falcons, 8-10-3 after Friday night’s 1-0 loss to Mercyhurst, moved on without him.
“Couldn’t be more proud of that kid,” Serratore said. “He’s proud of where he came from. He didn’t cheat the company an inch while he was here. He gave everything he had to the academy hockey program both on and off the ice.
“He’s one of us. He’s part of our family and he always will be.”