In a family that includes two brothers who attended Ivy League universities, Shane Starrett might be the smart one.
The Thunder’s rookie goalie was criticized by some for leaving the Air Force Academy early to sign a two-year contract with the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers even though he wasn’t NHL-ready. So far in Wichita, Starrett is making his choice look brilliant.
The 23-year-old Starrett, noted for his size at 6-foot-5, has won all six of his decisions in goal for the Thunder during its 10-1 start. Wichita plays host to Kansas City on Wednesday night.
Starrett has found a way to excel among the excellent, just like he’s done in his own family. Brothers Beau and Peter attended Cornell and Harvard, while Troy attended Babson College, recognized as the most prestigious entrepreneurial school in the country. They all played college hockey after growing up in Bellingham, Mass., but Shane is the first professional among the group.
“My dad always stressed about putting academics first, especially because we all planned on the college hockey route,” Shane Starrett said. “He kind of stressed what’s going to separate you from a guy with similar ability is trying to get into a school, and they’re going to take the guy that’s easier to get in academically and is going to thrive at the school.”
Thriving in professional hockey may seem like nothing compared to Starrett’s two-year experience at Air Force, where last season he led the Falcons to a 27-10 record and a postseason appearance.
The hockey was the easy part. Otherwise, Starrett was part of the Air Force training program that toughened him psychologically and sharpened his skills.
“Before you begin your freshman year, you go through 40 days of basic training, where you get acclimated with the military climate,” Starrett said. “That’s where you’re doing push-ups every time something happens. You’re getting up at 5:30 in the morning until 9 at night.
“… After classes, you go down to practice and work out, then go back up for dinner and homework. It kept me busy a lot.”
Starrett was prepared for a mandatory five-year period of military service, required of all Air Force Academy students who stay in school for at least three years. But this year, after he spent two years at Air Force, the Oilers offered a contract.
It was conflicting, but the Oilers offered Starrett a sure path toward his long-term goal of playing in the NHL.
“At first I had a deal where you could go pro after graduation and work your way around (the mandatory five years of service), but they took that away,” said Starrett, who originally signed with Boston University but did not attend. “Basically it came down to, do I want to get a career going or serve in the military, because those were the only options at that point now. It would have been an honor to serve my country, but at the same time this is a dream I’ve been chasing since I was a little kid and I couldn’t turn it down.”
It may be fitting that Starrett became a goalie, probably the sport’s most cerebral position. He possesses size and athleticism rare for the position, assets that could help him reach the NHL someday.
His most prized skill, however, might be his mind.
“I think it’s good to be a smart goalie, especially at this level,” Starrett said. “Things happen so much faster (than in college) and you need to be able to read a play. You can’t be caught sleeping at any moment, because plays happen so fast. That one lapse in your mind and the puck’s in the back of the net.
“You’ve got to alert at all times, you’ve got to stay mentally in the game at all times.”
Kansas City at Thunder
- When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
- Where: Intrust Bank Arena
- Records: Missouri 4-6, Thunder 10-1
- Broadcast: wichitathunder.com