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Whirlwind season boosts Pickard’s play

by Kinsey Janke || for

It’s been the year of goalies in professional hockey, and Calvin Pickard is no stranger to the magic that’s been cast over the creases of many of his peers.

Making his National Hockey League debut, doing so under the watchful eye of one of his childhood idols, and earning the top spot of ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays for this save are all things the 22-year-old can check off his list. Between the Colorado Avalanche and their American Hockey League affiliate, the Cleveland-based Lake Erie Monsters, Pickard has appeared in 60 games already this season, including his NHL debut and eventual first NHL win.

“It seems like both places I’ve been in, I’ve been able to play a lot of games,” he said. “That’s how you develop, and I’ve been earning a lot of experience this year, playing at both levels and in different situations. It’s been a big year for me, for sure.”

Born in Moncton, N.B., and raised in Winnipeg, Pickard was a second-round pick (No. 49) by the Avalanche in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, the third goalie selected that year. It was during his junior career with Seattle in the Western Hockey League that Pickard started proving he could handle heavy workloads, leading the WHL in minutes played each of his final three seasons while appearing in 194 of his team’s 216 games.

With Lake Erie, Pickard has been sharing the crease with fellow Avs prospect Sami Aittokallio, but 2014-15 is his third straight year of playing in 40 or more AHL games. In 45 contests with the Monsters this season, Pickard is 19-16-9 with a 2.59 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage. In 16 outings with Colorado, he was 6-7-3, with a 2.35 GAA and a .932 save percentage.

If he’s fatigued, it doesn’t show.

“He has a tremendous work ethic as it is, from his practice habits to how hard he competes in the games,” said Monsters head coach Dean Chynoweth. “This year with Calvin, he kind of took a step forward and obviously is the guy that we’ve had play the majority of the games. He hasn’t wavered. He takes that as a challenge to be the guy, to be able to play night in and night out.”

Pickard himself credits how fortunate he’s been with staying healthy over the years. In fact, it was an injury to Semyon Varlamov that got Pickard to Denver originally, and another injury to back-up Reto Berra that got Pickard into his first NHL action against Ottawa on Oct. 16, 2014.

Pickard and Aittokallio have been a steady presence in net for Lake Erie, and the trio of partners has proven immensely beneficial to Pickard’s growth this season.

“They’re all European-born goalies, and they’re all from different countries, so it’s nice getting a taste of all three,” Pickard said. “When I’m up top, Varly and Reto are such good people. They’re so nice to me and make me feel comfortable. Down here, Sami and I have been together for three years now. We get along well, and we feed off each other.”

The mentoring by Varlamov and Berra aside, Pickard has also been able to find his footing in the NHL under the guidance of Hockey Hall of Famer Patrick Roy, who is in his second season behind the bench of the Avalanche.

“It’s such an honor to play for him. He treats his players so well, and is so passionate about the game,” Pickard said. “He’s definitely intense, and cares so much about winning and about everyone around him – players, staff, fans. We feed off that, and you can tell every single night, everybody is giving it their all and putting forth a good effort and playing passionate hockey. That comes straight from him.”

Though he admits to breaking the stereotypical goalie personality of having superstitions and specific game-day routines, and despite the whirlwind of a season he has had, Pickard still fits the mold of young netminders struggling to adapt before finally breaking through.

“We had a change after the first year with our management, which brought in Francois Allaire and Jean-Ian Filiatrault,” Chynoweth said. “Calvin had a little trouble the first year adapting to the style they were teaching, and he went over to Europe in the summer to train with them. [Now] you see a noticeable difference in his composure in the net, in his rebound control, handling the puck, all those things that have coincided with his improved play.”

Pickard credits both Allaire and Filiatrault for shaping his technique, but tips his hat as well to his former junior goalie coach, Paul Fricker.

“[Fricker] was good in all aspects, but mostly he was good with preparation and mental techniques. He taught me a lot,” Pickard said. “As a young kid, I would always get frustrated after a goal, or just start pouting on the ice, and he taught me a lot of good lessons.”

Those lessons have bled into the work Pickard’s put in with Colorado’s staff, and has more than paid off. Chynoweth acknowledges that next year’s training camp will be a competitive one, and while Pickard is still learning what it takes to be an NHL goaltender, his attitude and mindset are already exactly where they need to be.

“It wasn’t until I went back [to Colorado] the second time and had a few games under my belt that I started to get comfortable and the coaching staff and my teammates had the confidence in me to go out there and get the job done,” he said. “When you have the confidence from them, it makes you feel way more comfortable in the net.

“There’s definitely nights where you’re not feeling 100 percent, but you have to find a way,” he added. “That’s part of being a pro.”