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Former Beaver Dalton pursuing dreams in ECHL

Reading Royals goaltender Matt Dalton had an 11-9 record, a 3.34 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage through Friday. Photo by Ben Hasty, Reading Eagle

Read and react.

It's how Matt Dalton lives his life on and off the ice.

It's how his decisions are made.

He never jumps right into anything.

Like when he decided to leave Bemidji State University after leading the Beavers on an incredible run to the NCAA Division I Frozen Four as a sophomore a year ago.

He weighed his options and made the best choice.

For Dalton, the best choice was to move on to a professional career.

"It was probably the best day of my life," he said of April 20, the day he signed an entry-level contract with the Boston Bruins. "It was amazing to finally have all the hard work pay off and finally get paid for something I love to do. It was very rewarding."

Immediately, the hockey blogs and message boards filled with notations on Dalton and his "unorthodox blocker-style," a style that is comparable to that of the Bruins' current starter, Tim Thomas, who will represent the United States in the Olympics.

While even Dalton admits those comparisons are unwarranted at this point, he believes he can get there.

"Tim Thomas was a guy I always looked up to," said Dalton, a natural lefty who plays right-handed. "It would be a dream to play in the NHL, but for me right now, I'm just working to get back up to the AHL."

Dalton played in four games with the Providence Bruins of the AHL this season before his reassignment to Reading.

The demotion to the ECHL could have been viewed as a negative, but instead, Dalton has turned it into a positive.

"I've learned to never get to high in the good moments and too low in the bad moments," he said. "You can't afford to beat yourself up."

Besides, the reassignment has given him the chance to be between the pipes for the Royals in 18 in their last 21 games. As of Friday, he's 11-9-0-2 in 22 starts with a 3.34 goals-against average.

The GAA is high, but not when one considers how busy Dalton has been. He sees more shots than most goaltenders in the league and is third in saves with 795. His save percentage is .907.

"He's definitely kept us in it," Royals coach Larry Courville said. "He's been a difference for us."

Dalton was touted as a difference-maker heading into college, being tabbed the top incoming freshman in Division I hockey by Inside College Hockey in 2007.

He drew the attention of several NCAA universities, but after it was discovered that his Canadian high school classes would not transfer in, Dalton was left with very few schools from which to choose.

One of those schools was Bemidji State in Minnesota, which was willing to work with Dalton's academic situation and get him ready for a collegiate career.

Still, amid all the hype, Dalton found himself as a freshman on the bench just waiting for his moment.

It didn't take long.

As a sophomore he dethroned the returning senior goalie, went 19-11-1-1 with a 2.19 GAA and keyed the Beavers' unthinkable run to the Frozen Four.

Dalton held No. 2 Notre Dame to one goal in a 5-1 upset in the Midwest Regional opener and followed it with another one-goal performance against Cornell.

With the great sophomore season came the pressure to leave early, but he didn't make a decision without reading and reacting.

"I talked to my parents a lot," he said. "I just went with my gut feeling, but it was hard. I just felt like there wasn't much more I could do there. I felt like it was time to move on and see what I can do. I sat there for days thinking about it."

A few days later, he inked his first contract - something he never thought was possible when he was skating around with his older brother and younger sister as a kid.

That's when Dalton figured out that it was more fun to frustrate forwards.

"I remember when we were young, we would switch in and out of the goal," he said. "I was pretty good at it and my coach suggested I stay in goal full-time."

And so it began.

Dalton began to mold his style - a style that led him to juniors, college, the ECHL and maybe someday, the NHL.

But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves.

Dalton won't.