A version of the following story appeared in the 2018-19 first edition of AVALANCHE, the official game magazine of the Colorado Avalanche Hockey Club. For more feature stories, purchase a copy of the magazine during Avs home games at Pepsi Center. All proceeds from game-magazine sales support youth hockey associations in Colorado.
When Pavel Francouz was not even 8 years old, he watched his country win its first winter Olympic gold medal. He knew then that he wanted to be a professional hockey player.
The Czech Republic defeated Russia to become the seventh nation to ever win Olympic ice hockey gold at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan and Francouz built a desire to someday do the same.
"When I was small, I just always liked to do all kinds of sports so I was pretty active. When we won the Olympic games in '98, it was pretty big for our country and all of a sudden, I wanted to be a hockey player," says Francouz. "Growing up, we were watching NHL. We had all kinds of magazines and posters, so it was my childhood dream."
Twenty years later, the Plzen, Czech Republic, native had the chance to represent his country at the 2018 Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. He started all six games while posting a 2-2 record, 2.27 goals-against average and .905 save percentage.
Francouz signed a one-year contract with the Colorado Avalanche on May 2 as a free agent and the 2018-19 campaign is his first season competing in North America.
"It's always huge if you can sign a contract with an organization like that," he says of joining Colorado. "Of course, I knew there are two really good goalies and I just wanted to be part of it and see how is it going here. It's a totally different world."
He played in the top Czech pro league with Litvinov for three seasons before transitioning to the Kontinental Hockey League. Francouz minded the net of the KHL's Traktor Chelyabinsk in Russia for three seasons, compiling a 32-27-11 record with a 1.73 goals-against averages and .945 save percentage in 83 career regular-season contests.
"It's the best league in Europe, so all the good players go there," Francouz says of the KHL. "It's a pretty good level there. I think I just got used to big pressure there, there is all kinds of pressure and I think that will mostly help me a lot."
In 2017-18, Francouz was named the KHL's top goaltender and selected to the First All-Star Team following a season with a 15-11-5 record, 1.80 goals-against average and league-best .946 save percentage in 35 appearances.
After he signed his contract with Colorado, the netminder made the trip to the Mile High City in late June to participate in the Avalanche's 2018 development camp. The week is focused on helping prospects prepare to play professional hockey, but Francouz wanted to participate to familiarize himself with the team staff and life in North America.
"I really wanted to go overseas. I decided to take this offer and I'm really excited to be here and be a part of this team, this organization because I met so many good people and everyone's so nice. It was a really nice experience," Francouz said of his time at development camp.
During his mid-summer week in Denver, the 28-year-old was able to meet Colorado's goaltending coach, Jussi Parkkila--a fellow European with experience in the KHL--who is helping Francouz adjust to the North American style of play.
"I met the coaches first during development camp, and it's really good that we have so many good coaches here," Francouz said before the season began. "We have a lot of opinions and personally I like to talk about stuff. I like to try new stuff and Jussi is trying to help me adapt in this kind of game here.
"He was honest, he was telling me what I should expect and what I should be ready for. He is really helpful."
The 6-foot, 179-pound goalie is getting his first taste of what it is like to play in North America with the Colorado Eagles in the American Hockey League. He won six of his first seven games in the league and is able to work on adapting his game there to further prepare him to accomplish his childhood aspirations of playing in the NHL.
"I would like to try to play in NHL, that's my dream," he said. "I will do my best, even in AHL. It's a good team, nice place, so I will do my best."