Craig Anderson hasn't made the Colorado Avalanche faithful forget about the heroics of hall of famer Patrick Roy, but the new netminder has eased the pain.
After Roy closed his career in 2003, David Aebischer, Jose Theodore and Peter Budaj took turns trying, but failed to adequately replace the four-time Stanley Cup champion.
The 28-year-old Anderson is only 11 games into his tenure with the Avalanche — but so far, so good. He has not only won a place in the hearts of the local hockey fans and his teammates, he has played himself into the United States Olympic team picture.
"A lot of it has to do with opportunity, but some of it also has to do with being prepared for getting that opportunity every night," said Anderson when asked to explain his success in the first four weeks of the NHL season.
"I'm here because of the way I pushed [Tomas] Vokoun for ice time. Everything you get in this league is because you've earned it."
This is Anderson's first season as an NHL starter, a position he easily won from Budaj in training camp.
Anderson hails from the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge, but he didn't grow up a Blackhawks fan because "they were never on television."
Instead, he cheered for the teams that Grant Fuhr played for, from Edmonton to Toronto to Buffalo to Los Angeles to St. Louis to Calgary. Anderson enjoyed the way Fuhr recklessly flung his body around the crease to keep the puck out of the net.
"The way he played the game, he was so exciting," Anderson said. "He did anything and everything to stop the puck, like [Boston's] Tim Thomas.
Long road to NHL
Anderson was playing Tier II junior hockey for the Chicago Freeze and hoping to land a hockey scholarship when Guelph Storm goalie coach Mike Parson came calling 11 years ago.
Guelph was about to lose its standout goalie, Chris Madden, to the U.S. junior team for a month, and Parson, a pretty good goalie himself (he won an AHL championship with the Portland Pirates and a Canadian university title with the Guelph Gryphons) was hoping to convince the 17-year-old Anderson to leave home and ply his trade with the Storm.
Guelph had drafted Anderson in the late rounds six months earlier, even though he told teams that he wasn't interested in playing in the OHL.
"They came up with an educational package that made the jump worth it," Anderson said. "Looking back, it was a good move."
The hometown Blackhawks drafted Anderson in the third round a decade ago, but success did not come swiftly for the 6-foot-2 goalie, who uses the butterfly technique as his base, but flops around like his hero Fuhr when he has to.
He spent time in the minors before he became the Blackhawks' backup to Nikolai Khaibulin. He then moved on to Florida and again had a stint in the minors before snatching backup status with the Panthers behind Vokoun.
It was difficult not to notice Anderson's outstanding play when Vokoun spent time on the injured reserve list last season. Anderson set an NHL record for most saves in a shutout with a 53-stop effort against the New York Islanders and finished the season with a .924 save percentage, third-best in the league.
That sort of play made it an easy decision for the Avalanche to lock up Anderson with a two-year $3.6-million US free-agent deal last summer.
"There only are 30 spots to start," Anderson said. "It's an honour to get yourself into the league, but then you have to strive to get better every day.
"Sometimes you may take a step backwards to take a couple steps forward. But you have to be willing to accept that fate, find a way to retool your game."
There is no retooling project required for Anderson this season. He and New Jersey's Martin Brodeur are the only two NHL goalies to have played in every minute of their teams' games so far.
Anderson set a franchise record by making 11 starts in a row to begin the season, and he also broke Roy's old mark of seven wins in the month of October when he earned his eighth victory over the weekend against the Detroit Red Wings.
If Anderson has to put his finger on the main reason for his success, he says it's been his ability to deal with the mental aspect of being an everyday goaltender.
"A lot of it's experience, like a learning curve," said Anderson, whose Avalanche visit the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday. "A lot of it is getting into a routine and sticking with it. Things don't always go the way you want it to go, so it's important to get back to that routine and stick with something you are comfortable with."