By Adam Biggers
FLINT, Mich.--Two games into the season, two wins in the pockets of the Flint Firebirds--who opened the 2015-16 season with a pair of victories over the Saginaw Spirit.
So far, the I-75 Divide is 2-0 in favor of the Ontario Hockey League's newcomers.
Flint goalie Zack Bowman isn't. And he's OK if he's now become a target in the rivalry.
"I don't play in the OHL to make friends," said the 6'0," 170-pound third-yearer after making 32 saves during Saturday's 3-2 shootout win over the Spirit. "It's not about personal stats, it's about winning."
At 18, Bowman has a lot on his shoulders. He's OK with that, though--and at this level of play, there is no other option. Either sink or swim.
Manning the net isn't for everyone, and there will be a feature on Bowman coming up soon. But after Saturday's game, I wanted to highlight a couple of things that struck me about Flint's newest star athlete.
Yes, star athlete. And he's not even the starter--that's Alex Nedeljkovic, who's out with an injury (update on that when available).
The sample size is small, sure. But Bowman's early showings have already created plenty of buzz. He posted 24 saves during Thursday night's 3-0 win over Saginaw--and on the road, at that. He's about his team and seems to have a cool, level head.
But he clearly has an edge, making him an ideal candidate to be the face of the city's OHL team. He does the dirty work, but in a business-like manner.
The following background information should help with getting to know Flint's goalkeeper:
Influences--Every athlete has them. Some guys idolize current players, some have a taste for the older. Bowman likes L.A. Kings star netminder Jonathan Quick, a two-time Stanley Cup champion and Vezina winner.
He also likes Ron Hextall, who posted 240 of 296 career wins while protecting the Philadelphia Flyers' net for 11 years. Hextall retired in 1999--when Bowman was about 3 years old--but that wasn't before he carved a reputation for being one of the NHL's toughest customers.
Bowman is a lot like that. He's not afraid to take a few hacks at those who invade his space. He's not afraid to defend his teammates if need be--they do the same for him.
"We all play for each other," he said. "I'll do what I have to, but I'd never two-hand (swing) someone like Ron Hextall!" he said, grinning while sitting at his corner of the Firebirds' NHL-esque locker room.
Another influence? Eddie the Eagle, Eddie Belfour--an NHL great and 1990s icon. From 1989 to 1997, Belfour starred for the Chicago Blackhawks. Before retiring in 2007, he spent time with the Dallas Stars, San Jose Sharks, Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers.
The Eagle pulled no punches. He was wild, he was clutch. He went 201-138 over 16 years, appeared in five NHL All-Star Games and won the Vezina twice.
"He made me want to play hockey," said Bowman.