By Curtis Zupke
ANAHEIM -- Frederik Andersen first got the urge to get in goal at about 10 years old. Before practice got underway he would get between the goal posts, challenging his teammates to get a puck past him.
He might have done better had he been wearing goalie equipment.
"I ended up with a lot of bruises because you didn't have too much protection. As a goalie you get hit here all the time," Andersen said as he pointed to his arms.
Andersen's father, Ernst, is a former goalie but he didn't really want his son to follow his path. Andersen was doing fine as a forward; center, to be specific. Or, as Frederik puts it, "As much as you can call that at 10 years old."
Fifteen years later, part of Andersen misses scoring goals. Of course, he's a long way from those days in Herning, Denmark, a city of about 45,000 people.
"It's been a while," Andersen said. "It's not really any of my concern right now. Stopping the puck is the only job I have right now. That's the focus. I'll let the other guys [score goals] for me."
Andersen has more than held up his part for the Anaheim Ducks, taking all the preseason drama out of the goalie competition with John Gibson, at least at the start. Andersen takes a 5-0-0 record, 1.38 goals-against average and .950 save percentage into Anaheim's game Wednesday against the Buffalo Sabres.
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau cautions against reading much into the five-game sample size, but it's difficult to argue with Andersen's body of work, picking up from last season, when he and Gibson played well enough to make goalies Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth expendable.
"We expected him to be this good, this early, right away," Boudreau said. "We had two real quality goalies in Viktor and Hiller, and [management] wouldn't have thought of not having them here if they didn't think that [Gibson] and Freddie could do the job. I'm not surprised one bit by what Freddie's done."
Andersen's journey came with little blueprint. He didn't have many Danish hockey players to look up to besides Simon Nielsen, a veteran goalie on Denmark's national team and brother of New York Islanders center Frans Nielsen. Based on Andersen's play with the national team, the Carolina Hurricanes drafted him in the seventh round (No. 187) at the 2010 NHL Draft, but Andersen went unsigned.
"Me and my agent talked about it and we thought maybe there were better chances out there," Andersen said. "There were better chances of making it on a good team. Looking back, I think I made the right decision."
He went to Sweden to play for Frolunda. It was a step up in exposure, and he had a full-time goaltending coach for the first time (not counting his father). Andersen re-entered the draft in 2012 and the Ducks took him in the third round (No. 87).
Anaheim wasn't on Andersen's radar because he knew the Ducks were set in goal with Hiller and Fasth. But he worked on his game in the American Hockey League and attended two camps run by renowned goalie coach Francois Allaire, who famously coached Andersen's idol, Patrick Roy.
"It helped me to a more organized style, a little bit more set things to do," Andersen said. "You use it as a foundation for your game, and after that your athleticism comes in and your reflexes. That was one of the cornerstones of the game [for me] to get that."
Goalie - ANA
GAA: 1.38 | SVP: .950
Ten goalies were chosen ahead of Andersen in the 2012 draft, none of whom has played in an NHL game. Andersen, meanwhile, made his debut Oct. 20, 2013, becoming the first goalie born in Denmark to play in the NHL.
At 6-foot-3 and 236 pounds, Andersen is thick with broad shoulders and looks like he would excel at any sport. What has separated him from Gibson is his ability to come up with the big save.
"He's not only making that big save but he's making it look easy," Ducks defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. "He's just always so big and in position, and pucks just hit him."
Ducks fans only can wonder what might have been had Andersen stayed healthy in the 2014 Western Conference Second Round, when Andersen sprained the MCL in his right knee and sat out the rest of the series against the Los Angeles Kings, against whom he was 3-0-0 with a 1.62 GAA.
Gibson, then 20, was thrust into a high-pressure situation and could not be faulted much. Andersen had the better numbers this preseason, not to mention more NHL experience. Both see it as more of a partnership than a competition.
"We have fun," Gibson said. "It's how it's supposed to be, right? I think we help each other to get better and push each other to get better."
Anaheim goaltending coach Dwayne Roloson sees it as a good situation. Why NHL shooters haven't adjusted to Andersen speaks both to the goalie and the Ducks defense.
"He's learning as well," Roloson said. "He's learning the other team and soaking it in. He does a good job reading the plays and finding pucks. It's not just him. Give our team a lot of credit; they do a great job in front of him boxing it out and keeping it simple in front of him and allowing him to see pucks."
Andersen is reserved and deflective of his success. He enjoys anonymity in Orange County, where it's not that much different than Denmark in terms of the attention hockey players get.
Andersen does allow himself to appreciate what he's done so far though.
"The first couple of drafts, I was kind of thinking maybe I didn't have it," he said. "My goal was to just make it to the NHL. I always loved playing hockey. I had to think that it's going to work out at some point. You've got to keep working hard; you get what you put into it. That's most things in life. When you put in more and have passion for the game, the game's going to reward you. That's the beauty of hockey. You wake up with a big smile every day when you go to the rink. It's just a great life."