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Pavelec turns back the clock with bare-face save

by Mike G. Morreale /
Just who the heck does Atlanta Thrashers goalie Ondrej Pavelec think he really is?

Just hours before the League would celebrate the 50th anniversary of the full-faced goalie mask and its debut in the NHL courtesy Jacques Plante on Nov. 1, 1959, there was Pavelec, the unmasked rookie, stopping a puck with his chinny-chin-chin late in the second-period of an eventual 3-1 victory over the Senators on Halloween night in Ottawa.

"I suppose it's up there with some of my better plays," Pavelec told

The play started innocently enough. With 3:16 left in the second period, Ottawa's Mike Fisher won an offensive zone draw before ripping a backhand at the left post that Pavelec stopped.

Unfortunately, the 22-year-old goalie would lose his mask in the process and, wouldn't you know it, there was sniper Alex Kovalev escaping with the puck from behind the net.

"I was thinking to myself, "This is not fun,'" Pavelec said.

Kovalev would make his way to the right circle before unleashing a wrist shot from 11 feet out that Pavelec denied with his left shoulder pad and, ultimately, his face.

"I wasn't thinking about the moment because I just wanted to make a save," Pavelec said. "There was a scramble and I think my mask was pushed up over my head by someone's leg in front of me and I was waiting for a whistle. Then I saw behind me that Kovalev was coming to the other post and he didn't notice I was without my mask, so I just tried to stop the puck. It was pretty scary, but I was also working (on) automatic -- I couldn't stop playing. The puck hit my shoulder, then my chin a little bit.

"When I saw the replays on TV, I said to myself, 'I'm lucky to have all my teeth in my mouth.'"

"Right now I feel like Jacques Plante 50 years ago," Pavelec told the media after the game. The save not only stunned the 17,297 in attendance at Scotiabank Place, but the mask-less man himself.

"One of the officials actually told me right away that it would be the anniversary of Jacques Plante wearing the first goalie mask when the play stopped," Pavelec said. "Looking back at it now, I think all goalies are lucky and they can say thanks to him because it changed our position for the better. I read the story about Jacques Plante and feel he is a very courageous man."

Plante was the Montreal Canadiens goalie who received numerous cuts after taking a shot to the face from the Rangers' Andy Bathgate on Nov. 1, 1959. He would return to the net after receiving seven stitches to close the gash, but did so wearing the first full goalie mask in NHL history.

Pavelec's heroic tale is a story the Czech Republic native is sure to offer up at the dinner table to relatives and friends and it's likely to conjure up the same unbelievable reaction. As if the save alone wasn't enough to earn Pavelec first star of the night, he would finish the contest with 50 saves, including 43 over the final two periods.

"I actually didn't get too many phone calls from friends or family members since most of them were watching the highlights on TV," Pavelec said. "They saw that I didn't get hurt, but some of my friends back in the Czech Republic called to tell me I was crazy."

In the 10-year history of the Thrashers, Pavelec's performance against Ottawa ranks as the finest single-game goaltending effort since December 2001 when fellow Czech native Milan Hnilicka stopped 53 shots against Boston.

Once thought of as a solid replacement at the start of the season for incumbent starter Kari Lehtonen (back surgery), who has now missed 18 straight dating back to last season, Pavelec has clearly solidified himself as the go-to guy between the pipes for the Thrashers.

"I was thinking to myself, "This is not fun.'"
-- Ondrej Pavelec

Entering Tuesday's game in Montreal, Pavelec, who underwent offseason right knee surgery, was 4-3-1 with a 2.60 goals-against average and .924 save percentage.

The maskless stop certainly atones for the forgettable 150-foot dump-in goal he allowed against the Capitals and defenseman Jeff Schultz on Oct. 27 -- a 5-4 setback.

"I'm always looking to improve and I'm just happy when I can help our team win," Pavelec said. "We snapped a four-game losing streak with the win (over Ottawa) so that was big. And I allowed that long goal against Washington that I wasn't happy about. But I had to find a way to put it behind me and move on. I'm just glad we came out with the win and got two points."

Contact Mike Morreale at

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