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Alberta goalie looks back on a dozen pro seasons, eager for more

Last month, Aaron Dell, of Airdrie, an NHL goaltender most remembered for his time with the San Jose Sharks, finished his thirteenth professional season.
Airdrie-born Aaron Dell, pictured as a member of the San Jose Sharks, finished the 2023-2024 season as a member of the Ontario Reign, the Los Angeles Kings AHL affiliate.

Last month, Aaron Dell, the Airdrie native and NHL goaltender most remembered for his time with the San Jose Sharks, recently finished his thirteenth professional season as a member of the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Ontario (California, not Canada) Reign, the primary affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings. 

In 12 games with the Reign, Dell posted a 2.57 goals against average (GAA) and a .914 save percentage, and split the end of his season between the Reign and the Kings as both California-based teams made their ill-fated playoff pushes. 

Although far removed from his Airdrie playing days, Dell still remembers his time in the City’s minor hockey system fondly. 

“It was great growing up and playing [in Airdrie],” he said. “Most of the teams that I was on were pretty decent…[I had] a lot of friends I grew up playing with.” 

As a junior hockey player, Dell played for the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s (AJHL) Calgary Canucks in 2007-2008 and 2008-2009. A workhorse in junior, Dell appeared in 51 games for the Canucks in 2008-2009. 

Then he went undrafted. Forgoing the traditional route of junior hockey development, Dell instead played three seasons at the University of North Dakota, a college hockey powerhouse that has made 20 NCAA tournament appearances since 2000. In three seasons, from 2009-2011, Dell started 78 games for the Fighting Hawks. In fact, Dell still holds the school record for most wins in a season with 30, set in 2010-2011.  

Dell’s journey to the NHL took him far and wide across the continental United States; from Texas to Utah, Massachusetts, and California. In 2015, Dell landed in San Jose, playing for the NHL’s Sharks minor league affiliate the San Jose Barracuda. 

In 2016, he made the big club’s roster and started 20 games for the Sharks, posting an 11-6-1 record with a 2.00 GAA and a .931 save percentage. 

From 2016 to 2020, Dell would appear in 214 games with San Jose. He’d win at least 10 games every season, and served as one of the league’s best backups behind starter Martin Jones.

“I think that you have the young guys who have that direct path and [the guys who] grind for playing time [or] for minimal money and moving around a bunch,” said Dell, remarking on his winding journey to being an NHL player. 

He added, “I think that stuff, I got the most out of it. I got to experience [the NHL] in the ‘not as great part’ and got to build as I went up. I had more of an appreciation of it when I got to [the NHL].” 

During the COVID-shortened season of 2020-2021, Dell found himself in New Jersey. He appeared in seven games with the Devils and made a single start for their AHL affiliate in Binghamton. 

For the 2021-2022 season Dell signed with the Buffalo Sabres and played in 12 games. On another two-way contract, Dell made almost double the amount of appearances for the Rochester Americans that season. In Rochester, Dell put up respectable numbers and at the start of the next season he was back in San Jose, lacing it up for the Sharks yet again. 

Dell only skated in four games for the Sharks in 2022-2023 and spent most of the season playing for the Barracuda. 

“I think as a goalie a lot of it was experience,” said Dell, talking about his time bouncing around in the minors. “When you have to learn some tough lessons and build off of them, you have to learn how to be a pro at each level … I think that playing at the lower levels in the pro leagues really helps you appreciate it as you move up each time.”

Last August the Columbus Blue Jackets signed Dell to a Professional Tryout (PTO), but he was released before the season started. The Carolina Hurricanes came calling next, signing Dell to another PTO in December, but again he failed to make the roster. 

Then came the Los Angeles Kings. In January the Kings signed Dell to an AHL contract that was then upgraded to a two-way deal in March, allowing the Kings to add Dell to their playoff roster in time for their first-round matchup against the Edmonton Oilers. 

Dell said there were moments of uncertainty this season, and a lot of unknowns about where or when he might play again.

“There were definitely times where I didn't know what was going to happen for the next year and you kind of just end up waiting and seeing and hoping you get an opportunity,” he said. 

At 35, Dell still wants to play pro hockey, and his plans for next season are fairly straightforward. 

“I'm just hoping to sign something at the beginning of the year; that would be great,” he said. “I'll just have to wait and see what happens.”


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