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Thiessen's Play Gets Bylsma's Attention

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

Brad Thiessen knows the situation.

He reported to Penguins training camp this month after an outstanding season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, where he won the 2010-11 Aldege “Baz" Bastien Memorial Award as the American Hockey League’s top goaltender after leading the league (and setting franchise records) with 35 wins and 7 shutouts (while also posting a 1.94 goals-against average and .922 save percentage).

But Thiessen knows that despite his incredible performance last season, he may still have to wait for his chance with the parent club with the depth that Pittsburgh has at his position.

“I think it would be a frustrating position to be in. Being a goaltender is a little bit different in the National Hockey League than other positions,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “It’s evident how hard it is to break into this league. Marc-Andre Fleury is our No. 1 goalie and Brent Johnson has been a very capable veteran backup. It's tough to get by that unless there's an injury and we didn't have that last year.

“Brad has not gotten that opportunity to get games even though his play in the American Hockey League would say that he is one of the best goaltenders down there in the last two years.”

And Thiessen, who signed a one-year contract extension with the team this summer, is OK with that.

But in the meantime, he’s going to continue to take every opportunity he has at training camp and in preseason games to prove that he’ll be ready and capable whenever the call comes – and that he can repeat last year’s performance.

“I think just trying to prove that I can play here,” he said of his mentality at this camp. “There’s two great goalies in front of me here. I’m just trying to show that if there is an opportunity for me to play, that I can play. If my spot is in Wilkes-Barre, I’ll go down there and try to do exactly what I did last year and keep working on my game.”
And the Penguins coaching staff is going to give him as many chances as they can to show his stuff at the NHL level – as he’s earned it.

“He’s knocking on the door and begging with his play to get in NHL games,” Bylsma said. “That did not happen last year. This is a guy you want to see play some NHL games and get NHL experience.

“So every chance he gets to go on the ice and play in a game is his chance to show he can be a good goaltender at the NHL level as well. That’s something, frankly, where we need to see him in those situations and give him a chance to do that.”

Thiessen played the third period of Pittsburgh’s 3-2 victory over Detroit on Sep. 21, saving 15 of 16 shots. He then got an opportunity to play a full 60 minutes in the Penguins’ 4-1 win over Minnesota on Sep. 24, making 17 stops in the game.

Bylsma was happy with what he saw from the 25-year-old netminder.

Brad Thiessen getting the start and full game, seeing him in the game was a good thing for Brad,” Bylsma said. “He looked strong. He was good side to side. He looked good with his opportunity.”

It’s been a little bit of an adjustment for Thiessen, as he noted that the speed of the game so far has been a little quicker than it is in the AHL. There’s also a lot more traffic in the form of players like Detroit’s Tomas Holmstrom – who has made a career out of making goalies’ lives difficult.

But Thiessen is going to continue to soak in as much as he can from Fleury and Johnson while he’s here in Pittsburgh, and continue to improve his game as much as he can no matter where he is for the 2011-12 campaign.

“I think there’s always different things in your game to work on,” Thiessen said. “I think that’s a big part of pro hockey, trying to be consistent and making sure that (last season) wasn’t just a one-year thing, but that I can do it year after year.”
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