Pickard a goalie on the rise

by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com

Milwaukee Admirals goalie Chet Pickard got burned by the wrong kind of hat trick on his team’s six-game swing through Texas from Nov. 20-28.

Three times, Pickard walked out of his postgame shower, grabbed a towel and got more than he bargained for.

"I went to wipe off my head. There was shaving cream in my hair," Pickard said. "I didn’t pick up on it."

Ah, rookies. Sometimes they don’t learn so quickly. Sometimes they do.

Let’s go back to that road trip. Pickard played in all six games, and overall the Admirals potted a mere 11 goals. Yet thanks to the newcomer’s performances in a series of close shaves, Milwaukee won nine of a possible 12 points on the jaunt with a 4-1-0-1 record.

Guess the shaving cream didn’t blur his vision.

"He took the ball in Texas," said Admirals coach Lane Lambert. "That was a real important stretch for him. He had an opportunity to really grow at this level. That’s what happened on the trip."

Pickard’s growth this season has expanded even beyond the wide borders of the Lone Star State. The Nashville Predators’ No. 1 pick in the 2008 draft has taken over as the Admirals’ stopper, going 7-4-2 with a .910 save percentage and 2.37 goals-against average.

If you want to see cool personified, you could watch Pickard, who just turned 20, skate into his crease. Or, you could catch him on one of his many community appearances reading to local school children. A recent visit had him reading "Dino-Hockey" to first-graders, a book that featured several tricky dinosaur names. Pickard handled it like he was making an uncontested outlet pass.

"I have fun with it. I know the kids enjoy it because they get a break from class," he said.

Pickard has been quieting tough crowds for many years. Playing for Tri-City of the WHL, he won league goaltender of the year honors for the second-straight season in 2008-09, becoming first netminder since Mike Vernon (Calgary, 1982-83) to pull that off. He also won a gold medal with Canada at the 2009 World Juniors, going 2-0-0 with a 0.50 goals-against average, .958 save percentage and a shutout.

"He’s a mentally strong goalie from the experiences he’s been through. What it manifests itself into is poise," Lambert said.

"There’s times when I’ve been nervous before a game. That’s a good thing. If you are nervous, you are ready," Pickard said. "I’d play all 82, or 80 games (in the pros) if I could. All we have to do is work for 60 minutes. Tired is just something in your head. I feel like if you are tired, you should be able to block it out of your head."

Sometimes it’s not only what you know, it’s who you know. The 6-foot-3, 216-pound Pickard has developed in a goaltending cocoon. His younger brother, Calvin, is a top goalie prospect now playing for Seattle of the WHL.

"I don’t know who the better goalie is. I hope I am. I have a few years on him," Chet said. "We share info back and forth. I try to help him out as much as I can. He’s pretty strong mentally. If there’s something wrong with the way he’s playing in a game, he’ll ask me. We have a lot of stuff in common."

Pickard’s tenure in Tri-City overlapped with Carey Price‘s for a couple seasons. Pickard was Price’s backup, then took over when Price went on to star with Hamilton and now Montreal. The two became and remain close friends, and compare notes frequently. Pickard admires his buddy’s ascension, and is candid when asked if he can duplicate it.

"He helped me work on my game a lot. I think we have a lot of similarities. I always watch his games. If I see something I like, I try to put it in my game. It could be something as little as a tape job on his stick," Pickard said. "I think for sure one day I could be that good. I just have to be patient. I saw him do it. I know I can do it."

Pickard was randomly assigned No. 37 at Tri-City. Interestingly enough, that was the number of former NHL goalie Olaf Kolzig. Kolzig also is an owner of Tri-City. He became yet another mentor for Pickard, and now, with the Admirals, Pickard wears that jersey in his honor.

"You have to beat him with a pretty good shot. He’s a pretty big kid," Kolzig said of Pickard. "And when you try to pass it around him, he has the athleticism to get across the crease. He’s going to make you earn every goal you get."

Kolzig was even more impressed with how Pickard reacted following one of his rare failures. Immediately after Kelowna bumped Tri-City out of the WHL playoffs last season, Kolzig checked in on his young goalie. He saw a player in despair to the point of tears.

"You want to see how a kid responds in those situations. He had a lot of success in his junior career. He wanted to go out at least having a shot at the Memorial Cup," Kolzig said. "He could have said, ‘Oh, it’s time to go look at the pro level.’ He knew his junior career is over. He didn’t get all the (success) he wanted out of it."

Pickard’s bounce back has been quick in Milwaukee. So far, he’s milking the pro game for all its experiences, from rookie initiations to eye-catching debuts.

"I’m a pretty competitive guy. Every game I get here, I go out and battle as hard as I can," he said. "If I’m here all year, hopefully I go out and just give our team a chance to win every night. That’s the goal. When I make it to the NHL, I want to stay there."

Lindsay Kramer, the AHL correspondent for NHL.com, profiles an up-and-coming player each Monday during the season, and his AHL notebook appears each Thursday on NHL.com.