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Pickard extends goalie excellence in Tri-City

by Aaron Bell

Chet Pickard hopes to become the fourth goaltender from his franchise to be selected in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft.
Chet Pickard already has seen the path he plans to take.

The 18-year-old goaltender of the Tri-City Americans in the Western Hockey League hopes to become the fourth goaltender from his franchise to be selected in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft.

Pickard played two seasons with Montreal Canadiens’ rookie Carey Price, the fifth-overall pick in 2005, and would like to follow Price as well as Olaf Kolzig (19th overall by the Washington Capitals in 1989) and Brian Boucher (22nd overall to the Philadelphia Flyers in 1995), who also were first-round NHL draft picks from the Americans.

While those three have all played in the NHL, Pickard has accomplished something none of them did during their junior careers. Pickard set the Americans’ record for wins by a goaltender -- with 38 and counting this season. That eclipses the team record of 33 set by Boucher during the 1995-96 season.

Despite holding that impressive record and staking the Americans to the No. 2 rating in the Canadian Hockey League this season, Pickard admits that he still has a long way to go before he will compare himself with the organization’s other legendary goalies.

“I don’t feel like I’m there yet,” Pickard told The Tri-City Herald after he set the record earlier this month. “There is a lot of work left to be done. Maybe in a few years, I can put myself up with them.”

Pickard first made headlines by posting shutouts in three of his nine wins as a rookie with the Americans in 2005-06. He was 17-10-0-1 last season as a sophomore and stepped in without missing a beat when Price missed time with an injury.

As the Americans’ No. 1 this season, Pickard is 38-10-2-2 with a 2.43 goals-against average and .916 save percentage in 54 games. He recently won 10-straight starts to help the Americans stay within striking distance of their first WHL regular-season championship.

“I guess (the record) was in the back of my mind, but it was just one game,” said Pickard, who hails from Winnipeg. “It’s always special when someone breaks a record or gets a career high, but winning games is what’s important. This is a team game. I’m just the guy with the win by his name.”

The Washington Capitals’ Kolzig, played for the Americans in 1988-89 and 1989-90. He has been impressed by Pickard’s play this season and believes that he will carry on the tradition of strong goaltenders that have come out of the Americans’ program.

“I saw that (potential) in Chet even when Carey was there,” said Kolzig, who along with Stu Barnes was among the group that purchased the Americans in 2005 from a group that included Anaheim Ducks GM Brian Burke. “I saw the athleticism he has. He has a bright future ahead of him.”

Pickard said having Kolzig around has been a huge benefit to the Americans’ goaltenders during the past few seasons.

“He’s an unbelievable guy,” said Pickard, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 206 pounds. “Being a young goalie coming up through the World Junior programs, you look up to a guy like Ollie and his career in the NHL. He’s an unbelievable guy, not only on the ice, but off the ice as well.”

Pickard said he and Kolzig golf together in the summer and he uses the time together to pick his mentor’s brain about moving up into the professional ranks.

“The stories he has to share and all the great things he has to say about his experience of battling up through junior and the American League and then making it into the NHL -- it’s something you really strive for,” Pickard said. “When a guy like that gives you the thumbs up or encourages you, it’s always a really nice feeling.”

Pickard was the top-rated North American goaltender in the Central Scouting mid-term rankings announced last month.

Pickard was the top-rated North American goaltender in the Central Scouting mid-term rankings announced last month.

“That means a lot," Americans’ coach Don Nachbaur said. “That says something about the year he’s had. I think the scouts have seen his growth as a player. That’s the part about getting better every year.”

With the scouts already singing his praises, Pickard was one of four goaltenders invited to play in the CHL’s Top Prospects Game at Rexall Place in Edmonton last month. The teams were picked by the NHL general managers and Pickard said that making that roster was one of the goals that he set out for himself before the season started.

“It was just an unbelievable experience,” Pickard said. “I mean it was just an honor to be there with a lot of great players. There were a lot of guys that I had never seen or played against before. It was just a great experience altogether.”

Despite giving up three goals on 13 shots in a losing effort for Team Red, Pickard said that playing in the annual showcase of the top-rated CHL players was a treat.

“In games like that, it’s not always fair to the goalies, but I thought I played pretty well,” Pickard said. “There were a lot of talented players out there and it was a good game for everybody.”

With the wins record already in his back pocket, Pickard also hopes to become the first goalie to backstop the Americans to the WHL championship and a berth in the Memorial Cup in Kitchener, Ontario in May.

He said that he has team goals in mind and won’t worry too much about his draft status until June.

“It’s really nice to get noticed,” Pickard said. “It’s a step in the right direction. To be ranked is a chance to make yourself a better prospect.”


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