Goaltending is normally an individual position. Only one can play at any one time. He doesn’t get to stray far from his net. He just stays in a general vicinity while taking too much blame for his team’s loss and quite possibly getting too much credit in a win.
During the 2006-2007 regular season, Minnesota Wild goaltenders Manny Fernandez and Niklas Backstrom
were never between the pipes at the same time. On Saturday afternoon, however, the two stood together at Ottawa’s Brookstreet Hotel to share a well-deserved accolade: the William M. Jennings Trophy.
The trophy goes to the goaltenders that played in at least 25 games on the team that allowed the fewest goals. Backstrom and Fernandez were largely responsible for the Wild allowing a League-low 191 goals.
“To actually come up to the stage and get this is something we’re proud of,” said Fernandez, who drove to Ottawa from his hometown of Montreal. “It also means we’ve taken a step in the right direction.”
Fernandez shouldered the Wild’s goaltending load through much of the first half of the season as the designated number one goaltender. He started the first 15 games of the season and appeared in all but eight of the club’s first 49 contests. In a 5-2 win over St. Louis on January 30, Fernandez suffered a knee injury, which effectively ended his season with a 22-16-1 record and a 2.55 goals against average.
In stepped Backstrom, who was stellar in place of the 11-year veteran. The first-year NHL netminder sparkled while posting an NHL-best .929 save percentage, earning him the Bank of America Roger Crozier Saving Grace Award in addition to the Jennings Trophy.
While the NHL world was shocked at the performance from this little-known goaltender, Fernandez wasn’t the least bit surprised.
“He’s obviously a hard worker,” said Fernandez. “Niklas has always shown that he had some great potential. So there’s something that told me when I got injured that this guy could play, and he definitely did.”
Backstrom, who is now sporting a shorter haircut and freshly shaven beard, admitted that even he never could have expected such success in his first-ever season in North America.
“That’s why you work hard, to gain some success,” he said. “But to be honest, I never would have believed that we – or I could be here together with Manny.”
Backstrom, who finished the season with a 23-8-6 record, received $25,000 to be donated to the youth hockey or education program of his choice. He will donate the monetary award to The Minnesota Sports & Entertainment (MSE) Community Giving Fund, a donor advised fund of the Minnesota Community Foundation that focuses its giving on youth, including healthcare and programs that grow and support youth hockey.