When asked for an evaluation of goaltending prospect Calvin Pickard
, Avalanche Vice President of Player Development Craig Billington – who knows a thing or two about playing the position at the highest level – channels one of the greatest netminders in the history of the game.
“The great Glenn Hall maybe said it best with goalies and development,” said Billington. “He talked about pucks and playing time. Certainly, Calvin’s getting lots of both.”
|Pickard leads all Western Hockey League goaltenders with 2,005 saves this season |
That might be an understatement. Pickard has been an absolute workhorse for the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds this season. The netminder has appeared in 51 of Seattle’s 54 games and has posted a league-best 2,005 saves (the next closest goalie, Swift Current’s Mark Friesen, has turned aside 1,556 shots).
Despite the high volume of shots he’s been facing, Pickard – who grabbed Seattle’s starting job midway through the 2008-09 campaign and was anointed the team’s full-time starter last season - still ranks second in the WHL with a .917 save percentage.
“Since I’ve been in Seattle I’ve had the great opportunity of playing almost every game every night,” said Pickard. “This year is no different. I’ve played almost every game and I’ve been facing a lot of pucks as well, which is a huge part of development in juniors. You want to face a lot of different situations so you’re ready for the pro ranks. To mix in a few wins and get into the playoffs this year would be something special as well.”
For the Thunderbirds to make the postseason, they’ll have to rely heavily upon Pickard and his ability to thrive under the spotlight. In 44 of his 51 appearances, the netminder has faced at least 30 shots. In fact, Pickard has seen 40 or more shots on 24 occasions this season, and has encountered at least 50 attempts in six separate games.
It’s a heavy workload, but Pickard would have it no other way.
“I love being that guy,” said the Moncton, New Brunswick native. “I thrive on workload and I love being the guy in Seattle’s net every night. I don’t plan on turning it down at all anytime soon.”
The 2009-10 season wasn’t a particularly memorable one for Seattle, which finished with a 19-41-7-5 record (50 points) and sat 21 points out of a playoff spot at season’s end. Still, Pickard was a bright spot for the team, finishing sixth in the league in save percentage (.914) and posting three shutouts en route to being named a finalist for the WHL Goaltender of the Year.
The 2010-11 campaign started off with high hopes for the Thunderbirds, as the club jumped out to a 15-11-3-4 record. But the team has fallen into a prolonged slump since Christmas, going 4-15-1-1 in their last 21 contests through Monday. Even with its recent struggles, Seattle is very much within striking distance of a postseason berth with less than 20 games remaining on the schedule.
“We got off to a really good start and things were rolling. Since Christmas we’ve really been struggling,” said Pickard. “We’ve had a couple good games and a couple bad games. We’re just searching for that consistency. We’re right in the playoff picture, but we know we have to play better if we want to get in the playoffs.”
Pickard’s development has been bolstered by two solid tutors who played the position at a high level. First, he works with Seattle’s goaltending coach, Paul Fricker, on a day-to-day basis. Fricker was drafted by the Hartford Whalers in 1980 and played two seasons at the University of Michigan before embarking on a professional career. The netminder also receives secondary support from Billington, a 15-year NHL veteran who spends a good chunk of his time on the road, keeping tabs on Colorado’s prospects.
“When Biller’s around it’s very nice. He’s always there for a guy to talk to. We text, we call each other,” said Pickard. “He’s definitely been a great help in my development in terms of things to work on and things to look out for. He comes out for practice and watches a game and we chat. Both guys, Paul and Biller, are two wonderful guys and big parts of my life.”
As is the case with any team, Colorado’s fans like to speculate as to when the club’s prospects might be ready to make the jump to the NHL level.
But at this point, Pickard says he’s not really thinking about his long-term career projection. Instead, he’s focused on taking things day-by-day and steadily growing his game.
“I’m just going to continue to play a lot, face a lot of different situations, face a lot of pucks and hopefully start my pro career and keep developing,” said Pickard. “I want to incrementally get better each and every year, each and every day, and we’ll see where it takes me.”