5FW Originals: Stewart Flies Back To Condors

Brian Stewart put together an excellent season for the Elmira Jackals in 2011-12, but decided to return to Bakersfield this year. (Photo: Mike Ashmore)

At first glance, it might have seemed like there was no reason for Brian Stewart to leave the Elmira Jackals.

He won a career-high 26 games, led Elmira into the second round of the playoffs and received numerous AHL call-ups to the Binghamton Senators.  But he never got into a game in the AHL after having played in 13 games at that level over the previous two seasons and wasn’t able to match the lofty 2.20 GAA and .929 save pct. he posted in 26 games with the Bakersfield Condors the year before.

Combine that with contracted goalies having taken over the Jackals — Nick Niedert was recently released, and the team now has three players on AHL or NHL deals on the roster — and the 27-year-old netminder clearly might the right decision.

Stewart returned to the site of what was the truly the best season of his career this year, where he’s splitting time with former Alaska-Fairbanks standout Scott Greenham.  The Trentonian recently caught up Stewart and asked him about his decision to leave the Jackals to head back to the Condors.

Mike Ashmore, 5 For Writing: So what went into the decision to sign back with Bakersfield for this season?

Brian Stewart: “I played here when I was on contract with Philadelphia, they’d sent me down here.  I had a good year when Adirondack sent me down from January on.  We won the division here two years ago, and I played really well.  I just thought I played here before, so I know what it’s like and I knew we had a whole new coaching staff and everything, but they seem great.  I was going to come back last year, but then I got a deal in the American League, so that’s how I ended up playing for Elmira last year.”

5FW: I’d have to think that given the year you put together last year that you’d be in pretty high demand coming into this season…were there a lot of other teams after you?

Stewart: “Yeah, there were a bunch of ECHL teams that were definitely interested.  But, I knew Bakersfield.  Part of me really wanted to go back to Elmira because of Pat Bingham.  He was such a great coach and a great guy, and we did really well there last year too.  They have a bunch of good core guys coming back there too, but I just felt like I had to change it up and get back out west.  It sucked last year because even though I was playing really well in the ECHL, I would get called up to Binghamton being on contract with them, and I ended up backing up 20-something games with them and it just wasn’t for me.  I could have went back on that deal again, and I was just like no.”

5FW: Did Bingham leaving Elmira almost make it easier to justify the decision to go back to Bakersfield for you?

Stewart: “Actually, no.  I talked to him last year and told him I had an awesome time last year, it was a hard decision.  I wanted to go back out west and I want to go back to the American League, I don’t want it to be a weekend thing if I go up.  That happens a lot in the Eastern Conference, where guys go up for a weekend.  Being in Bakersfield, if you get called up, you’re usually up for at least a couple weeks because they’re flying you.  I just want to have a strong year out here, and if nothing pans out, maybe head out to Europe next year.”

5FW: Was there any interest in for this season?

Stewart: “No one really approached me.  There was a team in England and a team in Italy, but not enough…the English team wanted me, but not enough to persuade me to get over there.  I’ve got to find somebody with better connections to promote me better.  I feel like I can play in Europe.  I’ve got to find someone that way.”

5FW: I would think the lockout would affect you a lot more than most guys…I got to see you come into town a lot last year, and I certainly know what you’re capable of…so did that affect you at all in terms of teams wanting to throw you an AHL deal, because it certainly seemed like you’d earned one…

Stewart: “I don’t know, because I was hoping for at least an American League deal again, but all I got was that two-way deal.  Last year, I was on a one-way deal, which was good, but it only restricts you to one team.  I only got the one deal again from Binghamton this year, and I was just like no.  I was kind of frustrated that no one else was really that interested.  There were talks that maybe I could go to a couple camps, but I know I’m on some teams radars right now.  I’m just going to keep playing my hardest, and whatever happens, happens.  That’s all I can really control.”

5FW: Anyone can look at the stats, but I also got to see you live in the shootout as well of course, and your success there got you a lot of attention as well…was that something you focused on last year?

Stewart: “It sort of just played out that way.  But always after practice, I’m always taking breakaways from guys.  They line up, and I like doing shootouts and stuff.  It kind of sucked the streak ended in the last game of the year last season against Wheeling, but it’s all right.  I love it.  It’s not something I necessarily work on, I just like doing them.”

5FW: Is there a key to being successful in the shootout?

Stewart: “You’ve just got to try to read what he’s going to do.  If you know the players, it helps a lot, just from playing them.  You get an idea of what you think they’re going to do.  But, like they say, make him make the first move really.”

5FW: What kind of group do you think you’re going to have this year in Bakersfield?

Stewart: “There’s a lot of returning guys, which is good.  That’s huge for a core group, just getting everybody together.  As far as I know right now, everybody looks good.  It looks like we should have a good team, especially given that they finished strong last year after a really tough start.” 

5FW: Being on the Eastern Conference side of things, you don’t really get to see too many of the teams from out west and vice versa…having come from Bakersfield to Elmira and then essentially going right back out west, are there any adjustments you have to make in terms of the style of play?

Stewart: “It feels like, from my point of view, that the guys out in the west are kind of bigger and the East has more smaller skill guys.  That’s just what I’m thinking.  But I think it’s pretty much the same brand of hockey.  There’s good players in both conferences, good teams.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

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