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Brathwaite mentoring, shining in Chicago

by Scott J. Powers || AHL On The Beat Archive

Chicago Wolves coach John Anderson doesn’t understand goaltenders. He tries to stay as far away from them as he can. To him, they’re another species.

Instead, he sends assistant coach Wendell Young to deal with them. Young, being a former goalie himself, understands the complicated psyche and can provide calm.

It certainly has come in handy in the case of Wolves starter Fred Brathwaite.

When Brathwaite signed with the Atlanta Thrashers prior to last season, he never expected to play a minute with the Wolves.

He had a goalie mask with Martin Luther King’s face designed with Atlanta in mind. Instead, he didn’t make the Thrashers’ roster and ended up splitting time with Michael Garnett in Chicago for the entire season.

That was the first of his frustrations.

Entering this season, he hoped to get a shot with the Thrashers or another NHL club. Again he was returned to the Wolves. But this time he didn’t even get a chance at starting. He was the backup to the Thrashers’ future — 20-year-old Ondrej Pavelec — from the beginning.

"I think he was frustrated," Young said. "But he knows the business, and teams want to play the young guys."

Brathwaite’s frustration lasted two games. When Thrashers starter Kari Lehtonen went down with an injury, Pavelec was called up. In stepped Brathwaite for the first time this season.

With an opportunity to finally prove himself, he hasn’t failed. In six games, he has gone 5-1-0, the loss being a 1-0 defeat. He has allowed 12 goals for a 1.93 average, which is among the leaders in the AHL.

Anderson may not understand goalies, but he has been impressed by Brathwaite.

"It’s the best I’ve seen him play since he’s been here," Anderson said. "He just seems much more determined, more focused. He’s made the spectacular saves and the ordinary saves.

"It (making him the backup to Pavelec) wasn’t done with this intention, but if that’s what it takes for him to play good, so be it."

Brathwaite didn’t confirm that. When asked about not being with the Thrashers and then sitting behind Pavelec, the 34-year-old veteran had his answers already prepared.

Although disappointed with not being in the NHL, he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else than with the Wolves. As for Pavelec, he found it tough to watch from the bench, but he understood the situation.

"Myself, I just have to come out and be prepared," he said. "If I get an opportunity, I have to be at the top of my game."

Scott J. Powers covers the Chicago Wolves for the Daily Herald.