Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Darren Pang used to have a nasty habit of playing hockey on his knees most of the time.
To look at him today, you might think he is still playing on his knees. But he's standing up to his full (or slightly exaggerated) height of 5 feet, 5 inches.
Pang, who is quick with a smile and a good "short guy" story, explains how he got off his knees in the goal.
"I had one guy, Brian Kilrea, my coach at Ottawa, who set me aside and said 'Look, you are going to have no success any further than juniors if you keep playing on your knees,"' Pang said. "I said, 'Brian, do you think I'm that small?' and he said "Yeah, you're that small, Ping-Pong.' "
Pang is looking bigger now that he has become a member of the Blackhawks. Playing behind Bob Mason, Pang had a 4.59 goals-against average in seven games with a won-loss record of 3-3. He shared duties with Mason in one game.
His biggest NHL moment came against Vancouver Nov. 22 when he stopped 35 shots and held the Canucks scoreless in six power plays as the Blackhawks won, 3-2.
"I had the pleasure of meeting young Darren Pang in Halifax (in the AHL) last year," said Vancouver Coach Bob McCammon, who was Edmonton's director of player development at that time. "Chicago sent him down there but he might have been the best goaltender in their system."
"I ran into him last year in the playoffs and we had several talks," Pang said of McCammon. "He said, 'Just keeping going. They are going to overlook your size. If you keep plugging away something is going to happen. They are going to give you a chance.' "
Before this season, Pang, a native of Medford, Ontario, played with Belleville, Ottawa, Milwaukee and Saginaw as well as a one-game appearance with the Blackhawks in 1985. He was the goaltender for Ottawa in 1982-83 when it won the Memorial Cup championship of the OHL and was named the second team All-Star goaltender in the IHL for Saginaw last year.
He also played seven games for Nova Scotia of the AHL last season, with a 4-3-0 record and a 3.24 goals-against average.
But there were times, Pang said, when he thought his size would forever keep him out of the NHL.
"There are a lot of goaltenders that played in the minors that just have yet to receive a chance," Pang said. "There are so many nights in the minors that you are thinking, 'Is anybody watching? Is anybody out there?' Luckily, I've got an opportunity. Receiving the chance is the biggest thing."
The change in goaltending style helped. He still likes to get down on his knees to stop junk plays in front of him but knee surgery in 1983 taught him to stay on his feet as much as possible.
"I couldn't butterfly anymore," Pang said of his favorite kneeling move, with legs splayed. "I had this thing in my head that I couldn't butterfly. I started standing up more, although you guys don't notice I'm standing up. I really am standing up," he said jokingly.
Another move to look for is the way Pang uses his glove. He looks like a baseball infielder (not a shortstop, he says), catching as many shots as possible in his glove.
"Why let it hit you and let it rebound when you can have full control?" he asks. "There have been games where I made no stick saves all game."
Pang says his size will never be forgotten. McCammon, even while heaping praise, refered to Pang as "that talented little goaltender."
"There are guys who did get respect," he said. "Rogie Vachon was one of the guys. But it's always 'the little fella, the diminutive guy.'
"It doesn't matter as long as the puck stays out of the net. Tonight (Nov. 22), did anybody notice that I was really small? We won the game, everything's well."