Saturday night was a night to remember for Colorado Avalanche goaltender Pavel Francouz.
Francouz made his first start in the National Hockey League and earned his first win in the league, stopping 34 shots against the Arizona Coyotes at Pepsi Center. He became the first Avalanche goaltender to earn the victory in his first career start in the league since Vitaly Kolesnik on Dec. 7, 2005 against the Boston Bruins.
The Plzen, Czech Republic, native also became the fourth Avalanche netminder since the franchise relocated from Quebec to have accomplished the feat as Peter Budaj (Oct. 8, 2005 at the Dallas Stars) and David Aebischer (Oct. 18, 2000 at Columbus) also did so.
"It's been great, I was dreaming about a moment like this my whole life, and I was just trying to enjoy every second of that," said Francouz. "I was really happy that it worked out, and we were able to win this game.
"I was thinking about it since the morning. You have it somewhere in the back of your head, but I was expecting to be more nervous actually. Once the puck dropped, I was just trying to be focused as much as possible and trying to flow with the game."
Video: Pavel Francouz after his first NHL start and win
The 29-year-old stopped the first 27 shots he faced, including eight while on the penalty kill, helping Colorado earn a 3-2 overtime victory.
Before the game against Arizona, the last time Francouz was between the pipes was in an exhibition matchup at the Vegas Golden Knights on Sept. 25. In that outing, he denied 16 of the 17 shots he faced and the only puck that got past him came with 18 second left to play. His showing gave head coach Jared Bednar assurance in Francouz's abilities.
"He comes to the rink every day and works really hard. He's impressed all of our guys on the ice, players, coaches, training staff, management," Bednar said of Francouz pregame. "If you catch him in some of those games, the last exhibition game in Las Vegas, he was outstanding. It's a tough building to go in and play. We had a younger lineup, they had a little bit of a mix of their older, veteran guys. He did a great job. We gave up some good scoring chances in that game, which gives us confidence putting him in the net here"
Video: ARI@COL: Francouz denies Hayton, Keller early
Francouz played his first season in North America in 2018-19, and he posted a 27-17-3 record in 49 games with the American Hockey League's Colorado Eagles. The 6-foot, 179-pound netminder was named to the AHL All-Star Classic and finished tied for fifth in the league with a .918 save percentage while recording a 2.68 goals-against average and three shutouts.
In addition, he made two relief appearances with the Avalanche, making his NHL debut on Dec. 22 at the Coyotes he stopped 21 of the 22 shots he faced in 29:15 of ice time. It was the first of two times that he entered the game with Colorado last season, and he registered a 1.97 goals-against average and .943 save percentage in those minutes.
Making the jump to the NHL this year, Francouz is filling the role of backup to Philipp Grubauer, a challenging position to be in.
"The backup, that is one of the toughest jobs in hockey," said Bednar. "You are sitting around and working and working in practice, before [and] after practice with guys that are putting in extra work, the injured guys, so you are committed to the team game, like that is the most selfless guy in the room.
"He has to watch it all and cheer everyone on, so when he has a chance to go in our guys want to see him succeed and hopefully play hard for him and check hard for him, which I thought we did tonight. For him, he is still an unknown to our group a little bit so for our team to gain confidence in his ability to win us hockey games I think is great, and that is the type of family atmosphere we want."
Having the support of the guys playing in front of him wasn't lost on Francouz, as he noted postgame that he could tell his teammates were doing what they could to assist him.
"There is a great group of guys, and you could see they were trying to help me as much as possible," Francouz said. "They were blocking shots and they played really solid in the defense, so I can only say thank you to them."
The victory was the Avalanche's fourth in a row to start the year. Colorado's 4-0-0 record is its best to open a year since beginning the 2013-14 campaign with six straight wins.
"We had a great time here, we were getting the best support here from the fans and it helped us a lot, so we were able to win four straight games at the start of the season," said Francouz. "It always helps when you win at the start of the season because you get your confidence and everything, it was huge."