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Anderson making most of No. 1 goalie opportunity

by Rick Sadowski /
CENTENNIAL, Colo.  -- All Craig Anderson ever wanted was an opportunity to show that he was capable of handling the No. 1 goaltending chores in the NHL.

It didn't happen in his first six seasons, three each with the Chicago Blackhawks and Florida Panthers, but Anderson has found a home with the Colorado Avalanche.

The 28-year-old native of Park Ridge, Ill., has been one of the driving forces behind the Avalanche's resurgence a year after the club finished in the Western Conference basement. He also is the NHL's Player of the Month for October, winning the honor despite stiff competition from the likes of Washington's Alex Ovechkin and Phoenix's Ilya Bryzgalov.

"He seems like he's on a mission," first-year Avalanche coach Joe Sacco told "He wants to be that No. 1 guy, not only on our team, but he wants to be considered one of the elite goaltenders in the League."

Anderson is surpassing all expectations after signing a two-year, $3.625 million contract July 1 as an unrestricted free agent.

"He's playing unbelievable," Avalanche center Paul Stastny said. "He's making the big save when we need it. It starts with him and his confidence and it goes to the rest of us. We're feeding off his energy and off his confidence."

Anderson already has set a franchise record for wins by a goaltender in October with 10, and he is among the League leaders in goals-against average (2.11), save percentage (.936) and shutouts (two) despite facing an average of 33 shots per game, plenty of them high-quality chances.

"I'm getting wins, and that's all that really matters," Anderson said. "The main goal is to get 'W's' and try to find a way to win, and right now I'm seeing the puck well and the guys are getting goals for me. I'm just doing my job, and my job is to stop the puck.

"Whether I have all five guys fall down, it's still my job. My mentality is, it doesn't matter. Mistakes are going to happen. Guys are going to turn it over and guys are going to fall down. The bottom line is, if I keep the puck out of the net, we don't lose. The statistics get taken care of when the team does well."

In Colorado's case, the team is doing well in large part because Anderson has performed so admirably, at times while under extreme duress.

Opponents outshot the Avalanche in 10 of the first 13 games, and Anderson faced 40 or more shots in two of them. He made 48 saves -- the second-highest total of his career -- in a 3-1 win against Detroit on Oct. 24; in that game he stopped all 21 shots the Red Wings launched in the third period.

"You have to have a goalie playing well to have success in this League, and he's definitely given us the confidence as a group," said Avalanche captain Adam Foote, who won two Stanley Cups with Patrick Roy guarding the net. "Definitely Andy has won us some games.

"It's like a quarterback. When a quarterback is on his game, or a pitcher, everyone else sees that and it gets your energy going. That's what's happening here."

Anderson showed similar flashes last season with the Panthers. He played in a career-high 31 games and posted a 15-7-5 record with three shutouts, a 2.71 GAA and .924 save percentage -- the latter figure the third-best mark in the League behind Boston's Tim Thomas (.933) and Panthers teammate Tomas Vokoun (.926).

"I made the most of the games that I played and earned the respect of the coaches and teammates to get more ice time," Anderson said. "I only played 31 games, but I tried to play well and give the team a chance to win. It's all about timing. When a team needs something and you step up and make the most of your opportunity, then your stock's going to go up."

Anderson's value grew considerably in the eyes of the Avalanche, which had the 6-foot-2, 180-pounder on their radar as the free-agent season approached. First-year General Manager Greg Sherman wasted little time in signing him, a move that is looking more and more like a steal.

"In Craig we feel we addressed a very important need within our organization," Sherman said. "His overall performance last year was very impressive, and he was entering the prime years of his career."

It's understandable that the Avalanche would be interested in Anderson; too often goaltending had been a weakness since Roy retired following the 2002-03 season.

But why would the Avalanche, who have missed the playoffs twice in the past three seasons, be an attractive option for Anderson?

"It's a great organization with a winning history," he said. "You talk to players around the League that played here that I played with and they said the organization treats the players unbelievable.

"It was one of the teams that needed a goalie that I could have a chance with to battle for the No. 1 spot. That was the key. I just wanted the opportunity. I wasn't looking for anything handed to me. I just wanted the opportunity to battle for it."

Anderson could have been forgiven for wondering if he'd ever get a chance to be more than a quality backup, but he has no complaints and looks at his time in Chicago and Florida as a meaningful apprenticeship.

"It was one of the teams that needed a goalie that I could have a chance with to battle for the No. 1 spot. That was the key. I just wanted the opportunity. I wasn't looking for anything handed to me. I just wanted the opportunity to battle for it."
-- Craig Anderson

"I've always played behind guys who were in their 30s that had been around the League for 10 years," he said. "It was always tough to knock one of those guys off because they earned the respect of being a No. 1. So to say that I've never been a No. 1, that's kind of the reason.

"I guess one thing that was really good about it was that I was able to learn a lot from those guys, to see how they prepare, to see how they work every day. I could see why they've been in the League for so long.

"You just try to get better every year. Looking back, after seven years of pro hockey, every year I've gotten better and better. If I didn't feel I could do this, I wouldn't be in the League."

Sacco, who coached the AHL's Lake Erie Monsters the past two seasons, acknowledges he didn't know all that much about Anderson coming into training camp.

"Through word of mouth from within our organization," he said. "Last year at some point I guess Craig had an opportunity to play quite a bit and he ran with it. He's 28 years old, he's in the prime of his career, and he's given us the chance to win every night. That's all you can ask from a goaltender.

"The bottom line is, right now we're going pretty good and he's a big part of it."
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