Duane Derksen joined the Skipjacks with a batch of credentials but without illusions of instant greatness.
That is a good thing, for Derksen is a reserve goalie at the moment. When the Skipjacks visit the Hershey Bears tonight, the 24-year-old rookie will be filling in for Byron Dafoe, who sprained an ankle last Friday.
"Byron is doubtful for this weekend, too," said Skipjacks coach Barry Trotz, referring to Saturday and Sunday games against Cape Breton and Binghamton. "He could be out another five days, a week or even two or three weeks."
Derksen is fresh out of the University of Wisconsin, where he played for four years and compiled 80 wins, putting him fourth on the NCAA's all-time victory list.
His numbers last season -- 21-12-2 record and .894 saves percentage -- put him in contention for the Hobey Baker Award, college hockey's version of the Heisman Trophy. Scott Pellerin of the University of Maine, now with the Utica Devils, won the award and Derksen was third in the balloting.
Chosen fourth by the Washington Capitals in the 1988 entry draft, Derksen opted for a college career at Wisconsin over a continuation of junior hockey in Canada. He had two years of junior hockey when he entered Wisconsin as a 20-year-old freshman.
"My father's a math teacher, and I liked the idea of college," Derksen said. "I'm from a small town of 5,200 [St. Boniface, Manitoba] two hours directly north of the University of North Dakota.
"A guy I played against in Canada, Eddie Belfour [now with the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks], went to North Dakota and we got their games on TV. College hockey seemed to be the thing to do. Going to school and playing hockey at the same time intrigued me."
At Wisconsin, Derksen had the benefit of a goalie coach, Bill Howard.
"Over four years, he changed my style, for the better," Derksen said. "I wouldn't trade my college experience for anything."
In the two games since Dafoe was hurt -- a win at Utica and a tie at New Haven -- Derksen's play, in Trotz's estimation, has been "OK." Interpretation: Derksen still has something to learn.
"Like the angles," Trotz said. "He made some saves when we needed them, but a few shots went in that shouldn't have. In college hockey, they don't shoot as much or as hard, so a goalie can stay back in the crease. In the pros, he has to come out and take away the angles and goal mouth passes."
Derksen puts it this way: "The difference between college and here isn't just speed but precision. The shots are quicker and more accurate and the plays develop quicker."
After 19 games of limited activity as Dafoe's backup, Derksen is learning full-time on the ice. He was thrown into the breach, which, he says, "is just the way I like it."