Goaltender Calvin Pickard's ability to handle a heavy workload is starting to pay off.
Making his NHL debut, doing so under the watchful eye of one of his childhood idols and earning the top spot in ESPN "SportsCenter’s" Top 10 Plays are all things the 22-year-old can check off his to-do list. Between the Colorado Avalanche and their American Hockey League affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters, Pickard has appeared in 61 games this season. That includes his first appearance and victory in the NHL.
“It seems like both places I've been in, I've been able to play a lot of games,” said Pickard, Colorado's third-round pick (No. 49) in the 2010 NHL Draft. “That’s how you develop, and I've been earning a lot of experience this year, playing at both levels and in different situations. It’s been a big year for me, for sure.”
Pickard started showing he could handle a lot of work during his junior career with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League. He led the WHL in minutes played in each of his final three seasons, appearing in 194 of his team’s 216 games.
Lake Erie Monsters goaltender Calvi Pickard is 19-16-9 with a 2.59 GAA and a .916 save percentage in 45 games. (Photo: John Saraya)
In Lake Erie, Pickard has been sharing the crease with fellow 2010 draft pick Sami Aittokallio, but 2014-15 is his third straight season of playing in 40 or more AHL games. Pickard is 19-16-9 with a 2.59 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage in 45 games with Lake Erie this season. He also got his first chance to play in the NHL and is 6-7-3, with a 2.35 GAA and a .932 save percentage in 16 appearances.
That's a lot of hockey. But If Pickard is fatigued, it doesn't show.
“He has a tremendous work ethic as it is, from his practice habits to how hard he competes in the games,” Monsters coach Dean Chynoweth said. “This year with Calvin, he kind of took a step forward and obviously is the guy that we've had play the majority of the games. He hasn't wavered. He takes that as a challenge to be the guy, to be able to play night in and night out.”
Pickard admits he's fortunate to have stayed healthy during his career. In fact, it was an injury to Colorado starter Semyon Varlamov that got Pickard to Denver for the first time, and an injury to backup Reto Berra that got Pickard into his first NHL action, against the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 16, 2014.
Pickard said he's learned a lot playing and working with the Avalanche's three non-North American goaltenders.
“They’re all European-born goalies, and they’re all from different countries, so it’s nice getting a taste of all three,” Pickard said. “When I’m up top, [Varlamov] and Reto are such good people. They’re so nice to me and make me feel comfortable. Down here, Sami and I have been together for three years now. We get along well, and we feed off each other.”
Pickard has also benefitted from the guidance of Avalanche coach and Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy, who is in his second season behind the bench in Colorado.
“It’s such an honor to play for him. He treats his players so well and is so passionate about the game,” Pickard said. “He’s definitely intense, and cares so much about winning and about everyone around him -- players, staff, fans. We feed off that, and you can tell every single night, everybody is giving it their all and putting forth a good effort and playing passionate hockey. That comes straight from him.”
Though Pickard admits to breaking the stereotypical goalie personality of having superstitions and specific game-day routines, and despite his whirlwind of a season, he still fits the mold of a young goaltender struggling to adapt before finally breaking through.
“We had a change after the first year with our management, which brought in Francois Allaire and Jean-Ian Filiatrault,” Chynoweth said. “Calvin had a little trouble the first year adapting to the style they were teaching, and he went over to Europe in the summer to train with them. [Now] you see a noticeable difference in his composure in the net, in his rebound control, handling the puck, all those things that have coincided with his improved play.”
Pickard credits Allaire and Filiatrault for shaping his technique, but also tips his hat to his former junior goalie coach, Paul Fricker.
“[Fricker] was good in all aspects, but mostly he was good with preparation and mental techniques. He taught me a lot,” Pickard said. “As a young kid, I would always get frustrated after a goal, or just start pouting on the ice, and he taught me a lot of good lessons.”
Those lessons and the work Pickard has put in with Colorado’s staff have more than paid off. Chynoweth acknowledges that next year’s training camp will be a competitive one, and while Pickard is still learning what it takes to be an NHL goaltender, his attitude and mindset are already exactly where they need to be.
“It wasn't until I went back [to Colorado] the second time and had a few games under my belt that I started to get comfortable and the coaching staff and my teammates had the confidence in me to go out there and get the job done,” he said. “When you have the confidence from them, it makes you feel way more comfortable in the net.
“There’s definitely nights where you’re not feeling 100 percent, but you have to find a way,” he added. “That's part of being a pro.”
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