PICKARD’S NET GAINS
Goalie getting a start at Winnipeg
Stick-to-itiveness is paying off
Before an Avalanche practice in Centennial last week, Calvin Pickard was in the net on the Family Sports Center’s second rink, working at quickly moving from post to post under the watch of renowned part-time goaltending coach Francois Allaire. A handful of his teammates had joined Pickard, and they compliantly broke around the net and attempted wraparounds before moving on to pepper Pickard — say that fast three times — with other types of shots as Allaire periodically talked with another of his protégés.
It is part of the continuing education for the Avalanche’s 24year-old backup goaltender.
After dividing time between Colorado’s American Hockey League affiliates and the Avalanche the past two seasons, Pickard is entrenched as Semyon Varlamov’s backup and at times has played well enough to bring the words “goaltending controversy” into play — especially when Varlamov, as has been the case for stretches so far this season, has struggled.
With Varlamov on the verge of recovering from his latest bout with groin muscle issues, Pickard will get his third consecutive start Sunday afternoon against the Winnipeg Jets in Manitoba’s frigid capital. That’s also significant because Winnipeg is Pickard’s hometown. It will be his first NHL start there and as of Friday, his teammates already were beginning to consider him personally responsible for the frigid conditions they would encounter. (How frigid? How does a high of minus-13 Fahrenheit sound?)
Granted, slightly more than half the players on the Avalanche roster are Canadians accustomed to subfreezing temperatures in late fall and winter, and the remainder hail from nations not mistaken for Bali, either. But minus-13? “I’m nervous,” Pickard said Friday. “A couple of guys have already asked me. But once we get to Winnipeg and walk off that plane, I’m going to have a lot of people angry at me for sure. It’s just the way it is this time of year. It’s cold and windy, and it’s not fun.”
Pickard, who was born in New Brunswick but moved to Winnipeg as a youngster, has played in his hometown against the Manitoba Moose while with the Avs’ AHL affiliates at Cleveland and San Antonio, but not for Colorado.
“It would be a great experience,” he said. “There would be a lot of family and friends there.”
After he had a lackluster game in allowing three goals on 23 shots in the careening Avalanche’s 3-1 loss to Florida on Friday night, Pickard is 5-5-1 in 12 games, with a 2.88 goals-against average and a .904 save percentage. For the third time this season, Varlamov didn’t suit up because of injury, with Spencer Martin backing up Pickard. The Avs have the fewest points in the NHL and a sevengame winless streak at home, and Pickard hasn’t been immune to the malaise of late.
“I like the start to my season, and my last few games haven’t gone the way we wanted or I wanted,” Pickard said after the morning skate Friday. “Varly went down for a couple of days, and that’s what a good backup is here to do and you have to step in and give your team a chance to win every time you’re out there.”
Varlamov is under contract through 2018-19, with a $5.9 million annual cap hit. If he doesn’t play the vast majority of the games and play at an elite level, he’s a wasteful drain on the salary cap. If he plays well, he will be worth it. So he will get every chance to succeed … and fail. It’s possible Colorado will leave him unprotected in the expansion draft for the Vegas Golden Knights, assuming that salary will scare off the Knights, or being willing to live with the possibility of losing him and going with Pickard.
Pickard is under contract through 2017-18, at $1 million per season.
“I’ve had a lot of chances to play the last couple of years,” Pickard said. “Things change. It’s nice to get opportunities, and it seems like everybody needs a good backup these days to play 25 to 35 games, and that’s a pretty solid workload. I don’t worry about the contracts or anything like that. If I play well consistently, everything will take care of itself.”
That said, Pickard hasn’t accepted being a career backup.
“I realize the situation I’m in,” he said. “But of course I want to play, of course I want to be a starter. … But the main goal is to help our team get to the playoffs. … I’m looking forward to getting more opportunities and taking advantage of them.”
Avalanche captain Gabe Landeskog said of Pickard: “He’s proven time and time again that he’s more than capable of making a difference in this league, and he gives us a chance to win a hockey game every time he’s between the pipes. There have been some hiccups this season, but that’s based on our team and that’s on us.”
Landeskog said Pickard has “the perfect temperament” to handle going in and out of the crease.
“He’s very positive, very social, likes to have a good time,” Landeskog said. “He likes to keep us loose and at the same time, when it’s go time, he’s focused and he’s one of the hardestworking guys in this dressing room, along with Varly. Those two are kind of driving the bus when it comes to work ethic.”