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FUTURE WATCH: Brossoit's backup opportunity

Laurent Brossoit is experiencing life as a backup after being recalled to the Oilers on January 11

by Paul Gazzola /

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The space inside the Oilers dressing room is beginning to clear up following the team's first practice after the NHL All-Star Weekend. The camera lights are off, mics lowered and the banter between media members and players has reached a conclusion, with only a few Oilers remaining in the area to change out of their equipment.

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Goaltender Laurent Brossoit emerges with sweat dripping from his mask, plopping down into the final stall of the locker room. He's been on the ice for an extended period, putting in some additional work with goalie coach Dustin Schwartz, who he's known since his WHL days with the Edmonton Oil Kings.

It's a different experience for the 23-year-old that's become accustomed to holding the starter position for almost every club he's made - as was the case with the Bakersfield Condors before he was summoned to Edmonton on January 11.

For now, it's part of his new duty in the NHL with the Oilers.

"If that's the role that I need to take, that's the role that I need to take," Brossoit said, nine days after achieving his first NHL victory - a 7-3 romp over the Calgary Flames, the franchise that drafted him 164th overall in 2011.

"I've always been a starter, so I always want to push for that spot but just to come up here now and just accept my role as a backup makes it easier mentally every day."

It's what the club sorely needs now more than ever: a goalie that can come into relief for the seemingly untiring Cam Talbot. The Oilers starter has played 46 games this season - the most out of any other goalie - faced the most shots (1,367), made the most saves (1,258) and will be heavily counted on as the campaign moves into March and April.

"He knows what it takes to get here and what it takes to stay here," said Talbot of Brossoit. "He's been carrying himself really well and it'll be a big impact for us moving forward down the stretch."

The backup position is a different animal. Substitutes are depended on to maintain the standard established by a starter, despite playing much less frequently.

No player - ever, on any team - will say they take the ice differently when their backup 'tender is between the pipes. It can affect the psyche of a team, though, reinforcing the need to have comfort in the second stringer when they play, no matter how often it may be.

"It's most important from a team perspective," said Schwartz. "You've got to know the guys believe in you when you're going into the net as the backup position. They have to know that you're going to give them a start that's quality and you're going to give them a chance to win."

The established relationship between Schwartz and Brossoit makes the backup conversation a natural one. They've discussed the difference between being a starter and a reinforcement, the defined assignment of being second in line, and how to tackle every day in the NHL to be ready to support their superior and team.

"We've talked at length about that," said Schwartz. "About your role as a backup, what expectations are different than expectations of being a starter. Your time on ice as far as practice and stuff goes might be a little bit different than what the starter goes through. And, you've got to be a good teammate."

There's no certainty as to how long Brossoit will be up with the big club. There are facets of the situation he can control and others he can't.

For one, the 6-foot-3 goaltender can dictate his performance and ensure he is well rehearsed before he straps the leather in an Oilers uniform.

During the 2015-16 season, Brossoit suited up for five games with Edmonton, going 0-4-1 with a 3.60 goals-against average and .873 save percentage. He was playing behind a different team but admits he wasn't nearly as prepared as he feels with the club now.

"Consistency and just being comfortable," said Brossoit about the difference between last year and now. "Going through a daily schedule up here is taxing and you got to be able to do it with ease so that when you do get your opportunity, you're fresh. That definitely was not the case last year. A lot more energy and just more prepared, more comfortable [this season]."

The comfort factor is a by-product of experience. With more reps, comes more familiarity and then better comprehension. That goes with everything.

There's also the Edmonton factor. Brossoit played three seasons with the Oil Kings, winning the Ed Chynoweth Cup and earning WHL playoff MVP honours in 2011-12.

So, when he was traded from the Flames organization to the Oilers on November 8, 2013, it was a surprise that came with a sense of ease.

"Going to Edmonton, it's a second home," said the netminder.

Brossoit is making the most out of being a backup. Understanding the role and thriving in it is something many starters before him have had to endure.

"Whether it's Cam or Carey Price or Jonathan Quick or Cory Schneider, all of those guys have had to kind of take the ball as a backup, accept that responsibility, be elite in that role and I think that's a role that LB has to flourish in to give himself the next opportunity," said Schwartz.

For now, Brossoit will be the last player on the ice in practice until that next opportunity comes. He'll get his looks in the crease, as he did in Calgary - making 38 saves and posting a .927 save percentage - to show he can "take the ball" as a backup.

Although he wishes his first NHL victory came earlier, Brossoit is happy to have the career achievement under his belt.

"I would have liked it to have come a little bit sooner but having said that, I learned a lot of things, made a lot of adjustments because of those [previous] games, so to get this win after that much time, it made it that much more special."

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