Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Montoya still quietly content being No. 2

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HERE is a snapshot of Alvaro Montoya on Monday, fresh off the previous night's big win, standing easy after Jets practice as reporters flocked around him.

It wasn't his intent, but with that performance in Colorado, the 28-year-old netminder slid himself out in front of the story.

That night, Montoya's numbers bore out what the eye test surmised: He came out strong, and helped keep the Jets alive. He turned away 33 shots in the 2-1 tilt, cashing in for a sparkly .979 save percentage and third star of the game. There was that sharp, sprawling save he made in the final minute of overtime, the one Blake Wheeler later saluted for opening the team one last overtime window to win.

"Yeah, you know, it was kind of a broken play," Montoya said of that one. "The puck came behind the net... bounces out front, scramble, save, and then for some reason a few minutes later it ends up in the other net. You feel very happy about that. In hockey, you see that all the time. You make a save one way, then you get the momentum and somehow it ends up in the other team's net. Just happy you can contribute in a game like that."

Fact is, Montoya has contributed like that almost every time he's come out. With appearances in 12 games, his .929 save percentage sure looks healthy; by comparison, Vancouver's up and comer Eddie Lack has .933 in the same number of outings. Meanwhile, Ondrej Pavelec is sitting at .902 through 32 starts, his solid November dashed by a dismal .863 turn across 10 games this month.

That sets Pavelec at just 23rd among the 25 goalies who have appeared in at least 21 games, and dead last amongst the 14 backstops who have faced at least 800 shots -- though it's worth noting he has faced more bullets, at 950, than anyone except Buffalo's Ryan Miller and Coyotes netminder Mike Smith.

This is the kindling where all goaltending controversies inevitably begin, but Montoya will not be the one to put it alight. He sits next to Pavs, they talk all the time -- about hockey, he said, about girlfriends, about what to eat that night -- and goalies are used to taking this arrangement in stride.

"We're here to push each other," Montoya said. "I'm here to push Pavs. He's a phenomenal goaltender. My job is to be ready to play whenever I'm called upon."

Head coach Claude Noel will also not fuel any goalie-debate flames, a fact he made clear right away after Monday's practice.

"Pavelec is still our No. 1 goalie," he said. "Still the guy we lean on... I think he's a competitor. I think that this is a little bump for him, and it's a little adversity, and I think it's healthy. I think that he's learning to deal with it, and that's how it goes in your career."

Noel paused then, and considered. "He's probably never had so much focus on it," he added. "That's the other thing he'd be dealing with."

Because here is a snapshot of Pavelec at practice. He took the ice early with goaltending coach Wade Flaherty, stayed late, pushing back and forth on skates streaked with battle-scuffs of red paint. When he finally trundled back into the dressing room he peeled off his jersey, turned his eyes toward the camera lights and spoke softly.

No, he said, he didn't expect December to be as rough as it was, didn't expect to get yanked from the net twice. Yes, he agreed firmly, Montoya has been great, the backup was ready every time he played. Then Pavelec turned those words towards himself.

"It happens to everybody," he said. "It happened to me now. I got pulled the last game... I don't know what to say. It's just part of hockey. Try to get better and try to get ready whenever I have a call."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 31, 2013 D3

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