On Thursday morning, Colorado Avalanche prospect Calvin Pickard was on his way to Chicago with the Lake Erie Monsters, preparing himself to be the starting goaltender that evening. By puck drop, he was in Ottawa, Ontario, supporting netminder Reto Berra as Semyon Varlamov had a groin injury that prevented him from dressing up.
“It was a crazy day. Went to Chicago, flew from Chicago to Ottawa. You know there’s always that chance that you’re going to be put into the net. I got a call at about 1 p.m. that I was coming up and backing up,” said Pickard after Avalanche practice on Monday. “There’s always that chance that there could be an injury or something like that, and you have to prepare yourself to be ready to be in net that night. It just so happened it was right off the bat.”
Pickard’s crazy day continued when, less than three minutes into the game, a collision with an Ottawa Senators player knocked Berra to the ice and ultimately out of the contest. With hardly a moment to prepare himself for what was about to happen, Pickard was thrust into the net, and thus the dawn of his NHL career began.
“Getting thrown into the game on Thursday, I had no time to think about it,” said Pickard, who would go on to receive a 5-3 loss in his debut. “So I got right in there, and it was nice for me.”
The Avalanche had the following day off, traveling to Montreal to take on the Canadiens at the Bell Centre on Saturday. With Berra unable to play, Pickard was slated to be the starter. He would be supported by fellow Monsters goaltender Sami Aittokallio, who was called up on Friday to help.
This time Pickard had a chance to enjoy himself, drinking in his surroundings. The smell of the ice, the echo of the arena during the morning skate, the raucous environment that would unleash it’s fury upon him. These things all factored into his routine as he prepared himself for his first NHL start between the pipes.
If Pickard had a preference on how he’d like to play, it would be this way, with time to focus.
“I’d say the one that you had full time to prepare. I knew the day before I was going to be playing,” said Pickard. “You like going to sleep the night before preparing for it, getting in the morning skate knowing you’re going to be in that net that night. That game. I’d definitely take that game over the Ottawa game.”
Having spent his adolescent years in both New Brunswick and Winnipeg, Manitoba, Pickard was no stranger to the acclaim of the Canadiens and their fans. He knew what it would be like in the barn when the game started, and he knew that it would be a special moment for him.
“To have the start on Saturday, in Montreal, every kid dreams of that, and I thought I did pretty well,” he said. “I grew up watching Hockey Night in Canada so to get my first start on Hockey Night in Canada in Montreal. I mean I’m pretty familiar with watching it on TV, but once I got in there and playing in that net on Saturday night, it was surreal.”
Everything that he’d seen or heard about about fans in Montreal, the energy that comes with playing there, even the overall experience was exactly what he expected when he took the ice in the Avalanche sweater.
“I’ve heard unbelievable things, only good things about playing there,” said Pickard. “And to actually experience it, It feels like everybody is right on top of you because the stands are so steep and it’s a packed house. It’s such a good tradition there. It was nice for me to play there.”
With his parents, sister, cousins, aunts and uncles all in attendance, Pickard put on a show, keeping the Avalanche in the game long enough to force a 3-2 decision, albeit not the one he was hoping for.
“Playing against elite players makes you better,” Pickard said. “I got great experience playing against those guys and facing those shots. And playing with these guys, it’s a great team here and it makes me a lot better.”
For the time being, it seems that Pickard’s starts with the Avalanche are over. Berra is expected to play Tuesday against the visiting Florida Panthers and, assuming there are no setbacks, Pickard will provide backup support. With Varlamov projected to return for Friday’s home game against the Vancouver Canucks, Pickard will head back to Lake Erie with some valuable gameplay added to his netminding resume.
“It was a very good experience for me, playing in two Canadian buildings and packed houses,” said Pickard, who learned a thing or two during his nearly 115 minutes of playing time. “Every shot matters. There’s so many good players obviously at this level. It’s the best level in the world, and if you give a guy an inch, he’s going to make you pay. You can’t let your guard down for one split second because that puck’s going to be behind you. You can’t take a second off. You’ve got to be sharp the whole game.”