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Stehl has one goal in mind.

Byline: CHRIS HANSEN The Register-Guard

History doesn't just repeat itself in the hockey life of Martin Stehl - it steadily gets better.

According to the Eugene Thunder's second-year goalie, he has led his team to the national tournament in his final season of eligibility at every level.

And each team always goes a little deeper in the tournament than the last.

His Pee Wee team finished eighth; his Bantam team placed sixth; and three years ago, his midget team won the consolation finals to claim third.

"Sooo," said Stehl, arching his eye brows in that all-knowing way. "I told (coach Kelly Hubbard) that if I play here, my goal is to make a run at nationals. I think we can do it."

It would take a first-place finish in the Northern-Pacific Hockey League to qualify for the Junior-B national tournament scheduled for March in Blaine, Minn.

While Eugene's season is far from over, the Thunder do hit the midway point at 19-4-0 and firmly entrenched atop the league standings with 38 points, ahead of second-place Tri-City (14-6-2, 30 points).

Friday night at 7:30, they will play the Portland Pioneers (9-14-0) at the Lane County Ice arena.

Last season was the league's first, and Eugene finished 15-25-4. Like any other minor-league system, the Thunder were overhauled at season's end with only four players on the current roster of 28 brought back.

One of them was Stehl, who at 20 years old has hit the junior hockey age limit. Next up is either playing in college or a professional minor-league system.

But that's next year. Right now, Stehl is having himself a career season.

Of all the goalkeepers on the 13 Junior-B teams east of the Mississippi River, Stehl is considered the best. He has the top record (11-3), best save percentage (.939) and allows the fewest goals per game (1.96).

"Martin does everything well," Hubbard said. "He's not a flashy goaltender, but he is a very solid goaltender."

And he's not short on confidence either.

"I have what you call Big-Head Syndrome," Stehl said. "I like to go out and let people know that I'm making this save, I'm going to win this game. Sometimes that affects other people in negative ways."

It can also have a positive effect.

"One of his biggest attributes is that he kind of calms everybody down and gives them that extra confidence that they need," Hubbard said.

"He's not lost for confidence, that's for sure. But it's a good trait to have, especially in your goalkeeper, because once the puck gets by him, there's nobody covering for him. You need that confidence."

Stehl came along more slowly last season.

He finished with a 9-13-3 record, then stayed in Eugene to finish his year at Lane Community College and work out with the Junior-A St. Louis Sting, which held a camp at LCI.

During the summer he returned home to Denver, worked out with a personal trainer off the ice and with members of the Denver University hockey team on the ice.

"He has bettered himself," Hubbard said. "You have to establish a work ethic on and off the ice, and he's done that now."

Still, Stehl noted the most important attribute of a successful goalie can't be cultivated in a gym.

"Once you make it to juniors and you're older than 18, it's all mental," he said. "You've had the training, you've been taught the techniques. You don't think about things, you just do it. It's instinctual."

He paused, then conceded: "It still takes some luck. Man's best friend is his dog, but a goalie's best friend is his post."

A quality group of teammates must be a close second, though.

"We have a higher-caliber team," Stehl said. "We have the right chemistry of players, the system is working for us and I'm getting good protection. I think we're going to do it."

And if nothing else, he has history on his side.

CAPTION(S):

The Eugene Thunder's Martin Stehl has a .939 save percentage and a 1.96 goals-per-game average.
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Title Annotation:Confident: Eugene goalie wants to make run at nationals in his final season at Junior-B.; Sports
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 6, 2001
Words:677
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