PICKARD’S NET GAINS

Goalie get­ting a start at Win­nipeg

The Denver Post - - SUNDAY - By Terry Frei

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.”

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