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Hedberg defying odds to earn No. 1 job with Atlanta

Friday, 02.26.2010 / 1:20 PM / NHL Insider

By John Manasso - NHL.com Correspondent

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Hedberg defying odds to earn No. 1 job with Atlanta
Goaltender Johan Hedberg has capitalized on his opportunity and laid claim to the team's No. 1 job.
DULUTH, Ga. -- Just a few months away from his 37th birthday, Thrashers goalie Johan Hedberg is disproving the theory that you can't teach an old dog new tricks.

The last time that Hedberg played in at least half of his team's games was seven seasons ago. Nonetheless, he is on a pace to start a majority of the Thrashers' and he has played a vital role in keeping them in the playoff hunt.

Signed in 2006 to back up and mentor Kari Lehtonen, the second  pick in the 2002 Entry Draft, Hedberg is poised to take over the No. 1 job -- though those in the organization shy away from talk of that designation -- as the oft-injured Lehtonen was recently traded to Dallas for a prospect.

"The guys who come up now in the League, they're taught so well from an early age," said Hedberg, who is incorporating butterfly techniques into his repertoire that he said have improved his game. "They're very, very good.

"Our way of playing is getting a little bit old. Now, I think more guys have adjusted to putting a lot of the new stuff in their game and in that way elevating their game. That's why, at least in my game, it's still working and improving at times because I am learning the new tricks, too."

"One thing about Heddy, I don't know if he's 36 or 37, but he doesn't look it. The way he works, he's one of the hardest-working guys on our team. He always works on his conditioning, so he's always ready to go. He's always focused and I think that's what gives him the opportunity to do what he's doing." -- Thrashers coach John Anderson

It's hard to find a better conditioned or prepared athlete -- Lehtonen once said Hedberg could skate as well and as fast as the non-goalies on the team -- and that work ethic has garnered the respect of those around him. In two of his first three seasons, Hedberg's teammates voted him as the Thrashers' "Players' Player."

On a team that is 26-24-10 and that allows 3.23 goals per game, Hedberg is 14-9-5 with a 2.56 goals-against average. He last played as many as 41 games for Pittsburgh in 2002-03 and while sharing the duties with capable rookie Ondrej Pavelec, Hedberg is on pace to play in 44 games, his most since 2001-02 and the second-most of his career.

But lately, he's starting to earn the lion's share of the starts, having made seven of the last 10. The Thrashers are 4-1-2 in those games.

"One thing about Heddy, I don't know if he's 36 or 37, but he doesn't look it," Thrashers coach John Anderson said. "The way he works, he's one of the hardest-working guys on our team. He always works on his conditioning, so he's always ready to go. He's always focused and I think that's what gives him the opportunity to do what he's doing.

"Right at the end of last year I think he ended up over .500 [13-12 on a team that went 35-41-6] and right now I think he's over .500 for us. So if he continues playing that well he's probably going to get the majority of the games. Right now, it's not about Pavs or him, it's about winning and we have to get as many points as we can get."

Knowing that there would be stiff competition between himself, Pavelec and Lehtonen entering the season, Hedberg said he took a more aggressive frame of mind. Injuries prevented Lehtonen from playing at all this season and Hedberg was there to capitalize.

He cited 40-year-old Dwayne Roloson -- just a few years removed from taking Edmonton to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final -- as an inspiration.

Maybe, like Roloson, he has four or five years left.

"Yeah, well I think so," Hedberg said. "It's funny and maybe it comes from playing so much but I have so much energy, so much fun coming to the rink. This is what I've been doing for my whole life, pretty much, and this is what I know. I know that I'm very happy doing this and I can't see any reason why I wouldn't want to keep doing it."
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