Pickard making most of his opportunities

Winnipeg native able to showcase his skills in disastrous year for Avs

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It’s pretty unusual to play for a last-place team and have a career year, but Calvin Pickard is proving to be an exception to the rule.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/05/2017 (1904 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s pretty unusual to play for a last-place team and have a career year, but Calvin Pickard is proving to be an exception to the rule.

The 25-year-old Winnipegger became the go-to goaltender for the Colorado Avalanche in 2016-17, taking charge after a season-ending injury to incumbent No. 1 Semyon Varlamov. In 50 games, Pickard registered a .904 save percentage, 2.98 goals-against average, while posting a 15-31-2 record and two shutouts.

The numbers were modest and even though the 30th-place Avs finished 21 points behind the 29th-place Vancouver Canucks, it didn’t deter Team Canada GM Ron Hextall from naming Pickard to his world championship roster. And his play at the worlds, where he backstopped the Canadians to a 2-1 shootout loss to Sweden in the gold-medal game, appeared to confirm Pickard as a rising star.

Martin Meissner / The Associated Press Canada's Calvin Pickard blocks a shot by Sweden's Joel Eriksson Ek, right, at the Ice Hockey World Championships final match between Canada and Sweden in the LANXESS arena in Cologne, Germany, Sunday, May 21, 2017.

“It was definitely a tough season,” said Pickard via telephone earlier this week from Rome.

“I got to play quite a few games in Denver. Everybody knows we were in last place by quite a bit. I took every game as an opportunity — there were ups and downs for sure. And then I got the call to go to the world championship and I’m always going to take that opportunity. I finished the year on a high note.”

Pickard, who won two round-robin games en route to gold for Canada at the 2016 worlds, played seven of Canada’s 10 games in 2017 while posting a 1.49 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage.

Petr David Josek / The Associated Press Files Calvin Pickard reaches for the puck during a game against the Czech Republic at the men’s world hockey championship earlier this month.

“Those were really good experiences for me on the world stage,” said Pickard, a second-round (49th overall) pick of the Avs in the 2010 draft. “I felt very confident and played my game. It’s definitely different when you’re on a powerhouse team. In the NHL, I had to be the difference and (at the worlds) you just have to play solid and not make mistakes… I feel like I’m playing some really good hockey right now, but it’s nice to have some time off.”

Pickard’s older brother, Chet, also a goaltender and a former first-round pick of the Nashville Predators in 2008, plays professionally in Germany, but took great pride in watching his sibling’s achievements.

“For him, it was a really big coming-out party,” Chet Pickard said. “We’ve always known he was a really good goalie and he’s really shown that in his whole pro career. Obviously, it was a tough season with Colorado. I think the most impressive thing for me is there was that losing atmosphere this year and to be able to turn that around and showcase that he can win at the world championship; not everyone could do that. It was a really big test for him and how strong he is mentally. I was really proud of him — almost in tears in that last game. I think he proven he’s a big-time goalie”

Calvin Pickard spent the majority of his first three pro seasons in the minors. It’s not uncommon for goaltenders to mature into solid NHLers in their mid-20s, meaning his best hockey should still be ahead of him. He signed a two-year, US$2-million bridge deal with the Avs last summer and could be a very attractive target for the Vegas Golden Knights in next month’s expansion draft.

A published report suggested the Avs would protect the often-injured Varlamov, who had season-ending hip surgery on Jan. 26, and expose Pickard in the expansion draft. Pickard becomes a restricted free agent following the 2017-18 season.

“I guess it could go either way with what we’re going to do,” said Pickard, explaining he has not received an indication from Colorado GM Joe Sakic about which goaltender will be protected. “It’s definitely in the back of my mind, but it’s out of my control now. I got to play a lot of games this year and they got a good look at me in Denver.

“I’m trying not to think about it.”

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Reporter

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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