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Ladd a shootout wizard

It's a little-known fact Jets captain among NHL's best

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JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The NHL’s No.1-ranked shootout player scores the winner against Antti Niemi Sunday — in a shootout, of course. Andrew Ladd wasn’t always as successful.

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JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS The NHL’s No.1-ranked shootout player scores the winner against Antti Niemi Sunday — in a shootout, of course. Andrew Ladd wasn’t always as successful. Photo Store

In the wake of Sunday's key final shot against San Jose and thrill of the win, Jets captain Andrew Ladd got a little reminder of how his shootout career began.

"My mom texted me last night, and told me I've come a long way," Ladd said on Monday, just 13 hours after he flipped a puck over Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi's shoulder to seal the Jets' comeback victory. See, there was that one time, back when the Jets captain was still wearing Chicago Blackhawks red. It was one of his first NHL attempts, and "not a good one," he said. "I pretty much dumped it in from centre ice."

When this reporter joked she hadn't seen that one on the TSN lowlight reels, Ladd smirked.

'Sometimes that's just the way it goes, but I seem to be able to pick a move before I shoot, and stick with it, and pucks have been going in the net'

-- Andrew Ladd

"You haven't been watching enough then," he quipped, and he was right: The clip of him scrambling alone after a fleeing puck was indeed immortalized in a TSN package, for a time. It was honoured -- is that the right word? -- as the second-worst shootout attempt. "We ended up winning the game, which made it a little bit easier," he laughed.

Well, success has a way of sweeping those images out of memory, and here's a fact: Of the 16 players in the NHL who have shot at least four times this season, only Ladd has beat the goalie every time. It's early yet, but no doubt the captain's trigger is hot. "I've been successful this year," he agreed. "Sometimes that's just the way it goes, but I seem to be able to pick a move before I shoot, and stick with it, and pucks have been going in the net."

At this point, that's more than just a trend. Ladd has shot 20 times in his career, and scored on half of those. That puts him among the most reliable in the game: Of the 139 players in the NHL today with at least 15 attempts (an arbitrary baseline there, we admit) only seven have scored on at least 50 per cent.

The shootout is a funny thing. In a defiantly team-oriented sport, it is a rare lonely moment dangling a promise of individual glory: "Did you see his shootout move?" makes for reliable water cooler fodder the next morning.

Or, you know, it could all go so very wrong. So in that moment, at centre ice, with 15,000 people hanging on the sortie and how many more thousands watching at home?

"It's a little nerve-racking," Ladd said. "But for me, I've got a little more comfortable with it the more I've shot. It helps me, I guess, to have my move set before I go, and I know what I'm doing, and just trying to execute."

On Sunday, it helped that Ladd had seen Niemi plenty, back when he was in Chicago. The experience can help smooth the nerves: Ladd was a Carolina rookie when the NHL introduced the shootout in 2005-06, and back then it felt a little more like shooting from the hip.

"I really didn't have any experience at all with it, so you just kind of go with it and learned as you went pretty much," he recalled. "It's fun, it's exciting for the fans, and I think that's the main thing."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 12, 2013 C3

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