During the lockout, NHL goalies were on their own, most even without a place to play. While scrimmages can accommodate as many as twenty skaters, there’s only room for two goaltenders. European clubs, often accepting of a star player or two to bolster their lineups, are hesitant to bench their goalies in favor of a locked out player to may return to the NHL at a moment’s notice.
Once they come back, those who’ve not seen regular action have plenty of hurdles to overcome. There’s the rust from not playing, the conditioning that might not be at top level, and the increased risk of injury from pushing too hard to get up to speed or simply overexerting in a game. Knees, hips, and groins will all be tested; some will buckle under the strain.
Goalies fortunate enough to see action overseas have another battle – re-acclimating themselves to the angles and the pace of the NHL. Not only do European team play on larger ice surfaces, but they play at a much more deliberate pace. “That’s one of the big cons of going over,” said Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer. “It’s such a slower game, and things develop so much slower.”
“If you’re a team where your two NHL goalies have been sitting around, not playing anywhere, then there is going to be an adjustment process – and a week of training camp isn’t enough. The guys that have been able to be playing, overseas or in the American league, they are definitely going to be better prepared to accept the workload.” – Dallas Eakins, coach of the Leafs’ AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies.
Here’s what all 30 starting NHL netminders, along with a few who will battle for starting jobs, did during the lockout to prepare for the upcoming season:
Jonas Hiller spent the lockout at home in Southern California. He did take to the ice – registering a victory – in a December 14 charity game to benefit the Children’s Hospital of Orange County and the Junior Ducks at Anaheim Ice. “I think it’s always cool to get a little scrimmage going, especially right now. Sometimes we skate with quite a few guys but we were finally able to play full ice, four-on-four, and have some people watch,” said Hiller via the Goalie Guild. “Hopefully this [CBA negotiation process] isn’t going to take a whole lot longer and we finally can play real hockey again, but this is better than nothing.”
Tim Thomas hasn’t changed his mind about sitting out this season. Per Bob McKenzie:
Said to be content/happy living with his family in Colorado, Thomas not interested in fulfilling final contract yr with BOS/any other team.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) January 6, 2013
This means that starting in net for the Bruins will be Tuukka Rask, who was superb in a handful of games with HC Plzen of the Czech league back in November. He went 6-2-0 with an excellent .936 save percentage and a 1.85 goals against average. The Finnish netminder returned to Boston after his short stint, where he’s been training since. “It was a good experience for me,” Rask said of his time in Europe. “I feel great physically.”
Ryan Miller has been involved in the negotiating sessions during the lockout. Hopefully, he found it exciting, because he’s seen very little action between the pipes. Aside from some informal practices, his lone game appearance came in a November charity event in Southern California, where he lives in the offseason. Miller joined a handful of players including Sidney Crosby, Patrick Marleau, and a number of Coyotes for scrimmages in Arizona back in November. He’s also participated in some workouts with Kings’ players at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California. Despite the lack of action, Miller feels comfortable starting the season, telling WKBW, “I feel ready to go. No time to worry about rust or finding chemistry, we have to play and win immediately.”
Miikka Kiprusoff has been participating sparingly in player practices in Calgary. Hopefully, the 36-year-old Finn has benefited from the rest. He’s racked up some serious miles over the past few years, with seven straight seasons of 70 games or more. Given his past workload, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him try to play all 48. Vicki Hall of the Calgary Herald, though, reports that the goaltender looked winded during recent workouts. If he’s not in game shape to start the season, Leland Irving or Henrik Karlsson may find themselves picking up more of the load. Just don’t tell that to Kiprusoff: “I feel I’m ready to play them all. I feel I’m ready to play half, whatever is best for the team and whatever the coaches think.”
Cam Ward has stayed in Carolina, scrimmaging with with the Staal brothers, defenseman Joni Pitkanen, and a handful of other players. Ward’s last game between the pipes was in the Canes’ final home win of last season on April 5 against the Montreal Canadiens.
“Obviously I’ve been skating and trying to do the best I can to stay in good shape and stay on the ice, but game situations are a little different than having six guys skating on the same drills every time we’re out there,” Ward told the News Observer.
“It’s going to be an important week before the first regular-season game to prepare, but I’m sure the rust will start to come off knowing the adrenaline that’s going to be pumping. It’s going to be go, go, go. It’s going to generate some exciting hockey because you know every game is important to make the playoffs.”
Like many of his peers, Corey Crawford has found it hard to find much action. He took part in La Tournée des Joueurs, a charity hockey tour that raised more than $400,000 for a variety of charities. “I played in a couple of charity games in Montreal. It’s not the same as a regular NHL game but the speed was there,” Crawford told CSN Chicago. He’s been skating in the Windy City since the events came to a close months ago. “You just do what you can to stay in shape, but obviously we want to be playing hockey.” Crawford will look to rebound from a rough season last year, though the lengthy lockout and shortened season won’t offer much opportunity to work out any of the kinks in his game.
Semyon Varlamov headed over to the KHL during the lockout, where he put together a brief-but-solid season with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. In 16 games, Varlamov went 8-4-3 with a .946 save percentage (best among goalies with at least fifteen games played) and a stellar 1.74 goals-against average, tied for the league lead. His three shutouts are two back of the league leader, but still very impressive when you consider he’s achieved them in only 16 games. Varlamov was recently named as a starter for the KHL All Star team. With Avs training camp set to get underway, he’ll likely have to miss out on the festivities. That’s good news for the Avs, though, since he’s obviously on top of his game, as seen in this amazing cross-crease stop on Alex Radulov:
Columbus Blue Jackets:
Along with Colorado, the Blue Jackets are one of the teams who may benefit most from their goalies playing overseas during the lockout. The road to the Blue Jackets’ net goes through the cobblestone-paved streets of the KHL. Both Sergei Bobrovsky and Curtis Sanford have been piling up the minutes in Russia. Bobrovsky has gone 18-3-2 in 24 games for SKA St. Petersburg with a .932 save percentage and a 1.94 goals against average. His four shutouts are one off the league lead. Of course, in Columbus, he’ll miss having the offensive firepower of Ilya Kovalchuk on his top line; St. Petersburg is currently the second-highest-scoring team in the KHL.
Steve Mason, who’ll be competing with Bobrovsky for the starting role, has been skating informally with a group of NHLers in Oakville, Ontario. It’ll be interesting to see how the goaltending battle plays out for the Blue Jackets, but with his higher-level competition, real game action, and solid performance, Boborovsky has the inside track on the job. It’s his to lose.
The ink on Kari Lehtonen’s new five-year, $29.5M deal was barely dry when the NHL lockout began. The Finnish backstop hasn’t gone far. He’s been working out with teammates in north Texas, though he probably hasn’t had to make any saves a tough as this one:
Detroit Red Wings:
Jimmy Howard opted to stay close to home, choosing not to leave his wife and one-year-old son to play overseas. He’s been participating in drills as a part of player-run practices being held at Troy Sports Center in Michigan, along with Wings’ backup goaltender Jonas Gustavsson. He did venture as far as the Arizona desert, though, to take part in a relatively large scrimmage session of five-on-five games. “I jumped all over [the opportunity to train in Phoenix]. It’s another way to help myself get ready. We’re scrimmaging,” said Howard. “I feel good. I feel very good actually.”
Howard spoke about the challenges of lack of game situations. “Timing and picking the puck up through traffic, I find that’s the hardest part out here,” Howard said. “Even in practice you get a couple of guys in front of you and the next thing you know you have no idea where the shooter is. That’s where regular, high-tempo practices and exhibition games is when you start getting that rhythm back and that timing back, reading the plays a little better.”
Devan Dubnyk has spent time on the road, looking for whatever action he can find. Given the limited practice opportunities available for goalies, he’s gone as far as attending practice sessions in Dallas and even venturing into enemy territory in Calgary.
“It’s not fun. It sucks, actually,” said Dubnyk. “I’d like to be home in Edmonton, but every time I’m there I end up not skating for four or five days and I can’t be doing that. If the NHL gets going I’m going to have to be ready. So I’m back to Edmonton on the weekend and I’ll decide where I’m off to next.”
“[I’m practicing with] a good group of guys who used to play in Europe and obviously a bunch of Flames guys,” said Dubnyk. “There’s [non-NHL] coaches out there and stuff who run drills and it’s actually pretty good intensity. The ice is good and I’m able to get out early every day for about half an hour.”
“You have to play games to get that feeling back, there’s only so much you can do in practice,” he said. “I’m sure every goalie will feel it when we come back, but it’s something we have to deal with. Everybody is going to be in the same boat.” – Oilers goalie Devan Dubnyk, to the Edmonton Sun.
Dubnyk also had a great opportunity to see some quality action by participating with Team Canada at the Spengler Cup, where he pitched a shutout his first game. It was his first action since May, when he backstopped Team Canada at the World Championships. “I had a bit of a nervous feeling going into the tournament, but I got a chance to get back into my game-day routine.” He seemed to pick it up quickly, as he was in good form. Dubnyk went 3-0, backstopping Team Canada to their first Spengler Cup Championship since 2007. He posted a 1.25 goals against average and a .956 save percentage along with one shutout in three games.
Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini was impressed with his netminder’s play in the tournament, telling the Edmonton Journal, “He put on a good show over there.” Oilers fans hope that the show will go on with some solid netminding in Edmonton this year.
Jose Theodore spent his winter in sunny Florida, where he practiced periodically with a group of current and former Panthers, including Tomas Fleischmann, Ed Jovanovski, Stephen Weiss, Radek Dvorak, and Marian Hossa. Goalies Scott Clemmensen and Tomas Vokoun, now with the Penguins, were also in the rotation, as was Roberto Luongo. Leading the sessions was former Leafs goaltending coach Francois Allaire.
Theodore seems pretty comfortable in his role and in his lockout training approach. He’s seen familiar faces and worked out in familiar places. His biggest challenge would potentially come from the Panthers’ AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage. Highly-touted Jacob Markstrom, though, has struggled this year, going 11-11-2 this season with a 2.75 save percentage and a .913 save percentage. Right now, he’s not even the best goaltender in San Antonio (that would be Dov Grumet-Morris, whose numbers are slightly better in fewer games), but he has the potential to be. Save for a trade or a turnaround in Markstrom’s performance, Theodore will remain the starter in Miami.
Los Angeles Kings:
Jonathan Quick has been on the shelf recovering from back surgery. The Kings sent him to their AHL-affiliated Manchester Monarchs, where he suited up for practices but was ineligible to play in any games. Quick was finally cleared to play by team doctors in early January. He participated in his first informal workout session on January 7, according to FrozenRoyalty.net. Hopefully, the rest will serve him well coming off his Conn Smythe-winning postseason.
“I hate to say it, because it comes at the cost of a four-month lockout, but I wouldn’t have been playing, no matter if we had a deal or not,” said Quick. “If we started two weeks ago, I wouldn’t have been playing. [The doctor] said I was 100 percent, and I feel great. This is the best I’ve felt since last February. There’s no pain.”
Niklas Backstrom planned on joining Dinamo Minsk in the KHL during the lockout, but a minor ankle injury kept him home. Instead, after a few weeks of rest and recovery, he’s been participating in informal workouts and a few charity games. He took part in Defending the Blue Line’s fundraising game at the University of Minnesota’s Mariucci Arena as well as a ‘Champs for Charity’ fundraising game in Chicago a few days earlier where he scored a goal on a penalty shot. Seriously. In full gear.
Carey Price remained in Montreal at the start of the lockout, hopeful that things would be settled quickly. He suited up for a charity game as part of La Tournée des Joueurs in St. Hyacinthe, Quebec, and continued scrimmaging with teammates. By December, though, he was back in his hometown of Kelowna. “I’m in B.C., not coming back,” he told Dave Stubbs of the Montreal Gazette. Price did venture a few hours to the south to visit the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League where he played junior hockey. He’s been skating and practicing with the 16-to-19-year-olds, and has settled in to a regular routine that includes sessions with the Americans’ goaltending coach. Let’s hope he’s not caught off-guard by the faster pace of the NHL. Montreal can’t afford to get off to a slow start this season.
Pekka Rinne opted to cross the pond to get in some action with Dinamo Minsk of the KHL. Perhaps he should’ve just stayed home. In 22 games, he struggled to a record of 9-11-2 with an .897 save percentage and a decidedly un-Rinne-like 3.08 GAA. One of five netminders in the crowded crease of Dinamo, Rinne saw the lion’s share of the workload. Not only was Rinne was off his game, but he was seriously outplayed by a 25-year old Norwegian goaltender who’d suited up for a grand total of one professional game prior to this season. Dinamo rookie Lars Haugen played 11 games, going 7-3 with a 1.70 GAA and .938 save percentage. Hopefully for Nashville, Rinne’s KHL play is not indicative of what they can expect when he returns to the Predators.
New Jersey Devils:
Martin Brodeur has been focusing on rest during the lockout. He did step into the crease for November’s Operation Hat Trick charity game in Atlantic City, where, even within the context of a charity game, he looked far from game-ready.
“The good thing for him is that the Devils had a long post-season run, so right now he has an opportunity to rest and regenerate, and I think there’s a benefit to that. But at the same time, the challenge is that Marty doesn’t really skate in the off-season. That ends up having a bigger impact on you the older you get. Of course he wants to stay fresh by not skating much, but it’s almost as if that makes it tougher for him to start when the lockout ends. He has to find his groove, and it may take him longer to do that. So the longer the lockout goes, unless he plays in a few of those charity games or ends up going to play in Europe, I think it’s going to be very difficult for him.” – Brodeur’s former teammate Kevin Weekes.
New York Islanders:
Evgeni Nabokov has been practicing with some of his former Sharks teammates in California, as reported by The Hockey Writers’ Jeff Hersh, who feels that the 37-year-old goaltender will benefit from the shortened season. In any case, Nabokov is ready to get started. “We want to play, that’s the bottom line,” he told Newsday, “We’re happy the lockout is over and we can play.”
No Islanders goaltending update would be complete without reporting on the oft-injured Rick DiPietro who is – and this will come as a surprise to no one – once again injured. After two terrible showings with SC Riessersee in Germany, in which he allowed a total of nine goals, he went down with a groin injury.
New York Rangers:
Last season’s Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist headed over to his hometown of Gothenberg, Sweden, with his wife and newborn daughter to visit friends and family, with possible thoughts of playing with his former team, the Frolunda Indians. He held off on signing a deal in hopes that the NHL and NHLPA would quickly come to an agreement. Instead, he worked out, skated, and practiced with one shooter. That strategy apparently worked for The King, as he returned to North America and put on an amazing performance in Atlantic City’s Operation Hat Trick charity event to raise money for Hurricane Sandy relief. Hank looked to be in true Vezina-winning form, stopping all 23 shots he faced in the first period and 56 saves overall. By December, he was back in Europe to resume skating and working out.
“I’m trying to stay busy,” Lundqvist told the Sporting News in November. “I’ve been skating every week, trying to stay ready in case something happens. I’m not sure if things are going to open up in the NHL or here in Sweden. Right now I’m just trying to stay ready, but it’s tough, though. It’s not ideal, obviously, but it is what it is.”
Hank is realistic about his level of preparation, and the expectation that he, like many of his fellow players, will still be getting back into form for the first few weeks of the season. “To reach your top limit, I think you need a couple [preseason] games,” he said to Newsday. “You can’t expect yourself to go out and play your absolute best if you haven’t played for eight months. You get a week or something, but no games, so it’s definitely going to be a challenge. I’m not going to lie, I don’t feel great out there. I’m going to put pressure on myself to get back as soon as possible, but at the same time, you need to have a little patience, too. I don’t think my game’s going to be perfect right away.” He won’t need to be perfect, but there’s little room for error if the team gets off to a sluggish start. Fortunately for Lundqvist, only one goaltender in the Atlantic Division saw action during the lockout, and that was Ilya Bryzgalov who turned in a less-than-impressive showing in the KHL. That should allow a little breathing room as they all get up to speed, and last year’s Vezina winenr should be expected to be at the top of his game a few weeks in.
Henrik is no stranger to the quirks of playing (or not playing) during a lockout. After the last lockout, the Rangers were going into the 2005-06 season with Weekes penciled in as their starting netminder. While Weekes spent the lost season training and practicing in North America, Lundqvist was in Europe competing. He led the Frolunda Indians to a first overall finish in the Swedish Elite League, posting a 1.79 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage. In the playoffs, he improved on his regular season stats with an unbelieveable 1.05 GAA and .962 save percentage. His stellar play helped Froluda claim a Gold Medal and Lundqvist the Honken Trophy as the league’s best goaltender. When the NHL resumed in 2005-06, Lundqvist – who was winning a Swedish Elite League Championship while Weekes was participating in informal workouts – came in and stole the starting spot.
Craig Anderson started the lockout with informal skates in Ottawa. He’s since sought out more guidance. The former Panther has been working out in Florida with goalie coach Francois Allaire, who resigned from his post with the Maple Leafs in September. Joining him are Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen and Canucks netminder Roberto Luongo.
“Originally, when he was doing all of the scrimmages, he was like, ‘You know, I think I’m starting to get bad habits,’ ” said Anderson’s agent. “Because it’s not NHL speed. No one who’s out there is going full-tilt.” The workouts and impromptu goaltending clinic may be paying off for the Senator, or at least his agent believes so. He told the National Post, “Craig’s ready to go.”
Philadelphia Flyers starter Ilya Bryzgalov returned to North America in December under mysterious circumstances (Was he injured? Anticipating the end of the lockout? Suiting up for a space mission?) after appearing in 12 games in a backup role with CSKA Moscow in the KHL. During that time, he went 6-5-0 with a .913 save percentage and 2.13 GAA. In comparison, the team’s starting netminder, Rastislav Stana, went 15-4-0 with a .936 save percentage and a 1.75 goals against average. Unfortunately for Bryzgalov, this is not the first time he’s fallen short. The expectations placed on him after his high-priced signing, along with his interesting remarks to the press, also made for a somewhat disappointing 2011-12 with the Flyers. Bryzgalov had some particularly rough comments after the season wrapped up:
“What I lived through this season I wouldn’t wish to an enemy.”
“[T]here is a lot of negativity surrounding the team. You did everything you could on the ice, you go to the locker room and someone yells some nonsense at your back. They’re ready to eat you alive. It’s unpleasant, because we are all people.”
“Everyone is talking about me… ‘Philadelphia won, but Bryz made a mistake again.’ Guys, who doesn’t make mistakes? People are so concentrated on the negative that they only see the bad in me.”
Flyers fans are certainly hoping there’s a lot more good to see, and that it’s better than last season – and better than his play this year in the KHL. Especially better than this forgettable moment.
After a surprising postseason run, Mike Smith has been preparing for his return to action with some casual practices with his teammates at the Ice Den in Scottsdale, Arizona, as well as taking part in team golf outings and tennis matches. “I guess you could say [a missed season] doesn’t hurt me that much, but it’s not much fun going to the rink and playing shinny hockey every day,” Smith told ESPN’s Craig Custance. “You’re working toward the ultimate goal – winning the Stanley Cup. You don’t do that sitting out years. As players, that’s what we want to do. We want to be out there. We want to be playing the game.”
Marc-Andre Fleury took to the ice on October 5 as part of NHL player charity tour La Tournée des Joueurs. Despite the high-level of talent, Fleury admitted that the play was far from what he could expect once the NHL season resumes. “There was no hitting, pretty much no slap shots,” he told the Post-Gazette. “It was more of an all-star type of game. [There were high scores like] 10-9 and stuff like that, so it was kind of tough to play. There were a lot of two-on-zero breakaways [and] backdoor [plays], so it was kind of tough.” The following month, he joined teammates for informal workouts at Southpointe, the Penguins practice facility, where he’s worked out ever since. Newly-acquired backup Tomas Vokoun has also participated in those workouts, so the two should be comfortable working together when the season begins. Given the length of the season and the quality of his goalkeepers, it would not be surprising to see coach Dan Bylsma have the two split time equitably – at least until the playoffs.
San Jose Sharks:
Finnish backstop Antti Niemi decided to return home during the lockout. He suited up with the Lahti Pelicans of the Finnish Elite League, where he’d spent three seasons prior to coming across the pond to play in the AHL in 2008. He spent one month with the team, playing ten games and posting a .904 save percentage and a 3.11 goals against average. To be fair, the Pelicans were quite bad. The stumbled to six wins in their first 25 games, allowing a league-worst 96 goals. Niemi returned in December and has been skating with teammates in the Bay Area. Here’s Niemi in net for a rare Pelicans victory, a 6-5 win on home ice:
St. Louis Blues:
Jaroslav Halak suited up for one game with Lausitzer Fuchse of Gernam league, earning a victory and a 0.92 GAA. That was it. One game – a good one, from the looks of those stats, though it wasn’t top-level competition – and Halak was done. He’s remained in Europe but has not suited up for any other professional games. The best news for Blues fans is that Halak has fully recovered from the ankle injury he suffered in the first round of the 2012 NHL playoffs. Expect Ken Hitchcock to continue a balanced rotation of his two capable netminders and riding the hot hand when the playoffs roll around.
The 1A goalie for the Blues, Brian Elliott, stayed in St. Louis during the lockout. His last game action came in the Blues second-round playoff loss to the Kings back in May.
“It was tough, as a goalie, to find a job overseas because the amount of import cards they were burning, it was hard to burn one on a goalie that would not be there for the whole season,” Elliott said. “It was tougher to find jobs, and where there were job openings, the league level was probably not the NHL level, so it almost works against you as a goalie that you go face slower shots and slower speeds. I thought it was more beneficial to be around NHL players and take those shots on a regular basis.”
“It’s getting back to that … the game speed is always difficult,” he said. “But I’m just going to go into this training camp, and this (final) week before training camp, focusing on having those good practice habits.” – Brian Elliott, to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Tampa Bay Lightning:
Acquired in the offseason from the Nashville Predators, Anders Lindback is expected to take over or at least share the reins as starting goaltender for the Tampa Bay Lightning this year. He spent the lockout with Ilves of the Finnish League, where he played 13 games with a 2.33 goals against average and a .930 save percentage. In December, he took a shot off the knee in practice that required six stitches, effectively ending his season in Finland.
Mathieu Garon has completely recovered from the groin injury that brought an untimely end to his 2011-12 season. The Quebec native was on a 12-3-2 run when he suffered the injury in a game against the Ottawa Senators. He’s remained in North America to practice during the lockout. He joined Team Quebec on La Tournée des Joueurs, the hockey charity tour, for a few events as well.
The continued development of Victor Hedman, along with the additions of Matt Carle and Sami Salo (if he can stay healthy), will help on the blueline for a Tampa team that allowed a league-worst 282 goals last season – 19 more than the runner-up Columbus Blue Jackets. It won’t be an easy ride for either of these goalies, but they should be able to improve on the team’s numbers from last year. Coach Guy Boucher will have a challenge in figuring out the best way to deploy his two goalies without disrupting Garon’s rhythm or Lindback’s confidence.
Toronto Maple Leafs:
Roberto Lungo has been… James Reimer has been working out in British Columbia with a handful of locked out NHLers and the University of B.C. hockey team. He also spent time working with Canucks’ backstop Cory Schneider under the tutelage of former Senators goaltending coach Eli Wilson. “It’s good, it’s more structure,” said Reimer to InGoal Magazine. “When you are technically sound and working like this it’s obviously a lot harder and you are getting more shots and it’s not just some guys floating around the zone and holding onto the puck and stuff. It’s more quick plays and quick shots, so you are working more, using your legs more, and it is more tiring.”
Reimer will be challenged in camp by Ben Scrivens, who is 14-7-1 with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. He has a 2.22 goals against average (tenth in the league) and a .917 save percentage, along with two shutouts. The competition will be good, but the pressure will be on Reimer to prove that he’s a number one goalie. Scrivens will be pushing him from within and the potential availability of Roberto Luongo will have Reimer looking over his shoulder if he falters even a little. Dave Nonis has traded for Roberto Luongo once before.
Roberto Luongo saw some great action… at the poker table. The netminder finished 634th, hauling in $19,227, in the World Series of Poker Tournament. As far as hockey goes, he’s been working out in a comfortable location despite a potentially awkward situation – in Florida, with Panthers netminders Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen, among others. Luongo’s long-time goaltending coach Francois Allaire is running the mini-camp. Naturally, Luongo’s presence in Florida is doing nothing to calm trade rumors of his possible return to the Sunshine State. “[The Panthers] make sense for myself, for my career and my family,” Luongo told the Sun-Sentinel. “This is a preferred location for obvious reasons, but I’m not shutting the door on other possibilities.”
The presumed number one goalie in Vancouver, Cory Schneider, started the lockout working with goaltending coach Eli Wilson at the Univeristy of British Columbia with Toronto’s James Reimer. He talked to InGoal Magazine about the benefits of hooking up with a private coach during the lockout. “Sometimes it’s easy to just do the drills and shinny and not work on little things like that on your own, so it’s someone to give you that extra motivation and force you to work on the little things that you might forget about.”
“I think there will be a big adjustment back and that’s part of the hesitation,” Schneider said. “But at this point it’s more to get that game intensity ratcheted up so that way when we come back you re not startled by the speed and intensity of a game-like situation, and you might not be as sharp or be as adjusted to the play as you want. For me I think it would be worth it to get into that routine and rhythm of game action, so when you do jump into games it feels comfortable.”
To help with that preparation, Schneider went overseas to find some action, joining Colorado’s Matt Duchene at HC Ambri-Priotta in the Swiss League in late November. In eight games, Schneider posted a 3.22 goals against average and a .914 save percentage. As a dual citizen of both the U.S. and Switzerland, he also suited up for Fribourg-Gotteron in the Spengler Cup, posting a 3.34 goals against average and an .876 save percentage in three games. His club lost to eventual Spengler Cup winner Canada 5-1 in the semi-finals. Forget the highlights, here’s the whole game:
Schneider talked to the Vancouver Sun about the importance of playing in actual games, saying, “At some point, I really want to play hockey, whether it’s here or abroad. I think it’s more important for my career going forward to stay sharp and stay prepared and get games in because 18 months without game action is not a good thing for a goalie, or for anybody for that matter.” Schneider has returned to Vancouver, where he’s once again practicing with his Canucks teammates.
Braden Holtby is one of the lucky few players who’ve been able to find solid playing time and stay in North America, thanks to his minor-league eligibility. He’s having a standout season with the AHL’s Hershey Bears. Holtby was named the AHL’s goaltender of the Month for December after going 5-4-1 with a 1.69 goals against average, a .943 save percentage, and three shutouts. He combined to stop 62 of 63 in back-to-back games in St. John’s. Holtby, 12-12-1 on the year, is currently ranked third in save percentage (.932), fifth in goals against average (2.14), and second in shutouts (4).
Challenging him for the starting job in Washington will be Michal Neuvirth, who spent the lockout with Sparta Praha of the Czech Extraliga. In 24 games, the Czech native recorded a 2.51 goals against average and a .925 save percentage. If he maintains that level of play, he could have a shot at wresting the top spot away from Holtby. Watch highlights from Neuvirth’s debut, a 3-2 loss to Ceske Budejovice:
The Capitals have to feel pretty comfortable coming into the season. Both of their goalies have found significant playing time and performed well in their respective roles. The competition for the starting goaltender job in Washington will further force them to up their games.
Jets starter Ondrej Pavelec had an interesting European tour during the lockout. Initially skating and scrimmaging in Montreal, Pavelec decided to play overseas. He started off in Liberec – home of Petr Nedved – in the Czech Repblic, where he took to the ice with Bili Tygri of the Czech Extraliga. After racking up only four wins in 14 appearances with 3.50 goals against average and a .896 save percentage, Pavelec opted not to renew his month-long contract once it expired in November.
Pavelec followed up that stint with a solid turn on the Czech Republic team for the Euro Hockey Tour, an annual challenge between the Czech Republic, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. In three games, he posted a 2.03 goals against average along with a .938 save percentage, leading the Czechs to a 1-0 victory over Finland and a 2-1 Karjala Cup victory over the Russians.
With no good news on the CBA front back in North America, Pavelec decided to stay in Europe, finding his new home 1500 kilometers to the north in Finland. Pavelec signed a six-game contract with the Lahti Pelicans, taking over for fellow locked-out netminder Antti Niemi, who’d recently returned to the U.S. In six games in the SM-Liiga, Pavelec had a 2.68 goals against average and .912 save percentage. Not bad, considering that Lahti was the worst team in the league defensively. Even if the results weren’t spectacular, fans in Winnipeg should be happy to their netminder played in some meaningful games overseas. This should mean a fast acclimation to the game without quite as much rust to shake off as some of his peers.