Here’s a testament to the rarity of Saginaw Spirit forward Josh Shalla’s 29-goal first half: before this season, his coach wouldn’t have thought it could be done by any player.
"This is not a knock on Josh Shalla at all," Spirit coach and General Manager Todd Watson said. "But I didn't think anybody could have 29 goals at the break."
Shalla scored goals 28 and 29 in a 4-1 win over Sault Ste. Marie December 17, part of a two-game win streak that kept Saginaw in first place at the league's holiday break.
After taking 11 days off, the Spirit returned December 29 with a 4-2 win over the Erie Otters at The Dow Event Centre where Shalla notched goal number 30.
In a first half that has produced plenty of memorable performances, Shalla’s goal scoring pace stands out.
Since a five-game scoreless streak in early October, Shalla has been scoring at better than a goal-per-game clip — he had 26 goals in the last 24 games before the break, including seven multi-goal games.
At the league's midway point, he was tied with Ottawa's Tyler Toffoli for the league lead. The next-closest goal scorer was four goals back.
By Spirit standards, Shalla's pace is historic. He needs barely more than half his first-half output in the second half to top Saginaw's single-season goal mark of 45, set by Ryan McDonough in 2007-08. In two of Saginaw's eight seasons, 29 goals is more than any Spirit player totaled all season.
"How much better of a first half could he have," Watson said.
Count Shalla among those who weren't counting on 29 in the first half. His first-half aim for goals coming into the season, he said, was 20.
Shalla is still getting used to scoring at a pace with the league’s best. A fourth-round OHL draft pick, he played only six games as a rookie and managed only 20 points in his sophomore season. Last year's 32-goal performance served as his breakout year, but wasn’t enough to get him drafted by the NHL in his first eligible season.
As much as last year was important as his draft year, this season became important for Shalla to prove he was capable of a repeat performance once the league already knew he was a 30-goal scorer.
"I didn't want to be one of those one-year bust kind of guys," Shalla said. "I'm glad I'm contributing here. I didn't want to just fall off the map."
One of the key factors to his repeat performance, Shalla said, has been knowing where to go. Shalla has spent more time this season in front of the net, ready to pick up a rebound, deflect a shot or take a pass and finish from point-blank range.
"It's one of the best spots to go,” Shalla said. “You pay a price down there sometimes, with the (defensemen) giving you cross checks. But it's where you've got to go."
Shalla hopes having his name at the top of the league scoring chart will keep him in the hunt to be drafted or signed by an NHL team within the year.
But until then, all he can do is keep scoring goals.
“Josh Shalla has let his play do the talking,” Watson said. “What else can you say.”
Article courtesy of Kyle Austin of the Saginaw News - http://www.mlive.com/spirit/index.ssf/2010/12/josh_shalla_on_historic_sagina.html