ANAHEIM, Calif. - When Frederik Andersen first started playing hockey in Denmark, he had a wicked temper. He shattered sticks, screamed and threw things ? and that was just after allowing a bad goal in practice.
"I kind of grew out of that, but I was pretty fiery," Andersen said in his usual calm monotone. "I'm just a really bad loser. I still have that. It still happens sometimes."
Such tales are barely believable these days to anybody who has met the soft-spoken, red-haired goalie on an incredible career path with the Anaheim Ducks.
Just over a year after his NHL debut, Andersen is a prolific winner for the powerful Ducks. He won 49 of his first 66 starts in Anaheim, piling up victories at a rate unmatched by a young goalie since Bill Durnan, Montreal's four-time Vezina Trophy winner from the 1940s.
Sure, the Ducks are an elite team, yet more than half of their wins have been by one goal. The NHL's first and only Danish-born goalie has calmly kept Anaheim on top of the league standings while the club employed a carousel of defencemen over its first 50 games.
Nothing seems to rattle Andersen ? not now that he has his temper under control and his focus on a Stanley Cup.
"He wants to be the best, and he gets really mad at himself when he's not," Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said. "That's why in his short career, you've seen that if he's had a bad game, the next game, he's come back with a vengeance."
As a kid, Andersen briefly harboured dreams of becoming an architect. They were back-burnered the first time he visited a pro hockey dressing room with his father, a goalie in the Danish league who didn't retire until the early 2000s.
Ernst Andersen didn't like the idea of his son stopping pucks, but Freddie wouldn't be dissuaded, even stepping into the crease during practice while wearing no goalie equipment.
"My dad finally let me (play goalie), but not at first," Andersen said. "He wanted me to make sure I could skate well and know the game a little bit before I got in there."
Although he idolizes Patrick Roy, Andersen has been compared to Montreal star Carey Price, and he models some of his game after the Canadian Olympic gold medallist 's clean, technical positional play. Andersen also emulates Price's skill with the puck, and his teammates have noticed.
"He's the best puck-handling goalie I've ever played with, and he wants to be a part of the team's defence," defenceman Ben Lovejoy said. "He's a pleasure to play in front of."
He has become the protege of Dwayne Roloson, the Ducks' goaltending coach. They have plenty in common: Roloson also had a legendary temper, but learned to control it enough to play 13 impressive NHL seasons.
"As a pupil, he's phenomenal," Roloson said. "You say one thing, and it's like, 'OK, it's done.' We're on to another thing."
Andersen has been living in California essentially year-round since arriving in North America, enjoying 12 months of shorts weather and training furiously with the Ducks' staff. He has the same modest level of fame in Orange County as he has in Denmark, where hockey's popularity is dwarfed by handball, allowing him to eat at restaurants mostly unnoticed in either place.
He has even struck up a relationship with the Los Angeles Angels, who play across Katella Avenue from the Ducks' Honda Center, and even incorporated aspects of baseball skills into some of his goaltending drills.
That dedication allowed the 6-foot-4 Andersen to drop 25 pounds in the summer before his NHL debut, immediately catching Boudreau's eye.
"I'm going, 'Who is this guy?'" Boudreau recalled. "He's quicker in net to go along with that bigger frame. It's good stuff."
Andersen has seized the job from three formidable contenders: Jonas Hiller, who had been the Ducks' starting goalie since 2008, capable backup Viktor Fasth, and rookie John Gibson, the touted prospect who made an impressive NHL debut late last season.
A year after Andersen mostly sat and watched Hiller, he is firmly in charge of the Ducks' crease. Hiller signed with Calgary as a free agent last summer, and Gibson is in the AHL after a lengthy injury absence allowed Andersen to consolidate his role.
After Gibson got hurt, Andersen made 20 consecutive starts in a streak ending in mid-December. He welcomed the work, reckoning he will have to make a similar stretch of starts if the Ducks make the deep playoff run they're anticipating.
And if Andersen occasionally needs to break a stick in practice, Roloson won't mind at all.
"I wouldn't say he's like me, but he gets pretty fired up pretty quick," Roloson said. "We've worked on controlling that. It's OK to have a little bit of emotion, especially in practice. Guys scoring on you, it's OK to get mad."