by Matt Rosen | phoenixcoyotes.com
Last season the Phoenix Coyotes missed the playoffs with a 38-39-5 record. This season they hope the playoffs are in their sights, but they know that to have a successful season, a strong goaltending tandem is necessary.
Curtis Joseph is the number-one goaltender in Phoenix. He was 32-21-5 a season ago meaning the backup goaltending combination of Brian Boucher, Philippe Sauve and David LeNeveu were just 6-18-2, a record that Coyotes head coach Wayne Gretzky hopes to see improve on this season.
Boucher was traded to the Calgary Flames last season and Sauve was inconsistent at the NHL level. So over the summer, the Coyotes went out and signed free-agent goaltender Mike Morrison, to compete for the backup job with David LeNeveu, who has been touted as the Coyotes goaltender of the future.
“I definitely knew it was not a shoo-in (for me to make the team),” said LeNeveu. “They bring in other goaltenders for a reason and that reason is competition. Competition is supposed to push the two or three players so they are at their best and their best only benefits the team in the long run because the best player is going to move on.”
As training camp began, many thought LeNeveu would remain in Phoenix as the backup to Joseph. However, LeNeveu did not have a very strong camp, and Morrison earned the number two spot on the Coyotes goaltending depth chart by impressing the coaches with his experience and his play. For LeNeveu, that meant he would start the 2006-07 campaign with the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage to fine-tune his game.
“I was very disappointed after our meeting (with Coyotes coaching staff) and was told I was being sent down,” said LeNeveu. “I felt that at the beginning of training camp I wasn’t on top of my game, but towards the end of training camp, I felt I was playing very well. I knew I had some work to do, so I went down to San Antonio and told the coaches that I need to work my butt of so I can get back there as soon as possible and get my opportunity back. It only benefited me, I came up here with all the confidence in the world.”
It was disappointing not to make the opening night roster for 23-year-old LeNeveu, who played in 15 games during the 2005-06 season. He began this season with the Rampage, where his hard work and improved play led to a call-up by the Coyotes in late October.
“I got the phone call in the afternoon from Pat Conacher (San Antonio head coach),” LeNeveu said. “I was very excited. I knew I had to go out there and I knew I had to win.”
With four straight losses, the Coyotes were struggling and needed a spark. LeNeveu was called up on Oct. 26 and made his first start of the season that same day against the Edmonton Oilers. He proved to be just what the doctor had ordered for the Coyotes, making 32 saves en route to his first win of the season and was named the number-one star of the game.
“That’s me just doing the job that they are asking (of me),” said LeNeveu. “When everybody does their job it’s usually going to come out into a win.”
LeNeveu, a Fernie, B.C., native, recorded his first victory in the NHL last season with the Coyotes by turning away 24 shots in a 5-4 win against the St. Louis Blues on Oct. 25, 2005.
LeNeveu had an impressive college career, playing two seasons with Cornell, recording a 39-5-2 record with 11 shutouts. He was runner-up for the Hobey Baker Award, awarded annually to the top college hockey player, in 2003 as he set an NCAA record with a 1.20 goals-against average. That same year, LeNeveu won the Ken Dryden Award, given to the ECAC’s top goaltender.
“You can’t be putting extra pressure on yourself,” added LeNeveu. “You just have to go out with all the confidence and just play your game and if you go out and play your game, the good results will follow.”
Currently the backup goalie, LeNeveu knows that anything can happen in the blink of an eye. Morrison is in San Antonio working on his game, hoping to regain the spot that was his at the start of the season. At the same time, every goaltender who is not a starter in the NHL is hoping for a shot as a starting netminder, and in LeNeveu’s eyes, that means everyone is competition.
“There’s competition with every other goalie in the league,” said LeNeveu. “I’m not just competing against the guys that are (in our system), I’m competing against (Joseph) to get every start that I can. I’m competing against the other goaltenders in the league so I need to showcase myself all around. You know, the better goaltender you become, the better opportunities you force yourself into.”
Since turning pro in 2003, LeNeveu, a 2004 AHL All-Star, has played on four different teams (Springfield, Utah, San Antonio and Phoenix), hoping to land a job a permanent spot in the NHL. Now he has an opportunity to seize the day with the Coyotes and find a home here in Phoenix.
“I gotta tell you it’s been a long journey, and for my journey it’s been long already, but it’s just starting at the same time,” said LeNeveu. “You never know what the jump is going to be like from the college to the pro leagues and then from the AHL to the NHL. It’s a big jump every step of the way. It’s a huge, long learning curve, and you can only take it one step at a time. I look back at the last four years and there have been some tough times (but) you’ve got to come to work everyday and keep improving.”
The season is still young, and with LeNeveu playing well, he and Curtis Joseph are a nice one-two punch in the Coyotes net. LeNeveu has proven he can win on every level. Now it’s time for him to shine in the NHL.