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Game days aren’t the most burdensome for NHL backup goaltender Laurent Brossoit; it’s the long recesses in between starts that pose the greatest challenge.
But that’s Brossoit’s lot in life with the Winnipeg Jets, and the numbers bear out he’s making the most out of spot duty.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice said Thursday he’ll go with Connor Hellebuyck, his No. 1 guy, against the Colorado Avalanche tonight at Bell MTS Place. It will be Hellebuyck’s fourth-straight start, including back-to-back games against the Florida Panthers last week in Helsinki, Finland during the NHL Global Series — although that amounts to four games in 13 days, with plenty of time for rest and recovery.
For Brossoit, the gap would be 16 days between assignments if he were to play Sunday at home against the New Jersey Devils. But there is no guarantee he’ll get the net then, either.
Brossoit understood the role when he signed a free-agent deal with the Central Division club in the summer to play behind a Vezina Trophy finalist. That acceptance — being comfortable in his own skin — started materializing the past two seasons when he was with the Edmonton Oilers, who directed the lion’s share of crease work to Cam Talbot.
“That was a learning curve for me in Edmonton, learning how to stay focused on the right things and being patient,” said Brossoit. “I was never in a backup spot before that, so it was definitely an adjustment and I feel like I’ve benefited now from going through those couple of years, knowing what I have to do to stay positive, stay focused for whenever I do get a start.”
Brossoit, who inked a one-year, US$650,000 deal with Winnipeg on July 1, offered up a favourable first impression during training camp with a couple of solid efforts in pre-season games. He’s only bolstered his good standing within the organization during three starts in October, posting a perfect 3-0-0 record, while recording a 1.68 goals-against average and .957 save percentage. He blocked in excess of 40 shots in each of his first two wins.
“A fresh start, a clear head, just a little more experience,” said Brossoit, when asked to list the reasons for his early success.
“I know what to work on off the ice and on the ice, where to spend my mental and physical energy. So far, it’s working out.”
Brossoit, listed at 6-3, 200 pounds, refuses to allow his attention to be diverted by the waiting game, instead directing his focus to unrelenting work in practice and in the gym.
It’s been a major shift for a guy who shouldered 50-start seasons in the Western Hockey League with the Edmonton Oil Kings and in the American Hockey League with the Oklahoma City Barons.
“Maturity is big,” said the 25-year-old from Port Alberni, B.C. “When you’re 19, 20 or even 23, especially as a goalie when you’ve always been the go-to guy since you were a kid, you can get pretty cocky and your head can get pretty big easily. So, having a couple of years as a backup puts your ego aside. Even if your role is small, it’s still a contributing role to a successful team.
“The biggest thing is to be realistic. You can’t be naive enough not to understand the business side of the game and the role you play on a team. If you’re a backup and you’re not taking that role seriously and you’re taking it discouragingly, I feel like you’re only going to do harm to your teammates. I don’t want to be that guy.”
Maurice said he’s most concerned with getting Hellebuyck back into a rhythm after the interruption of the trip to Helsinki, but is mindful of the importance of keeping Brossoit sharp.
“Priority one (is) we have to make sure we get Connor into some games, get him back up to speed, like the rest of our hockey club, and then starting fitting Laurent in at the right time,” he said.
The Jets’ bench boss said Brossoit has quickly ingratiated himself within the organization.
“He doesn’t spend any extra energy or anxiety on when his next start is going to be. He comes in, practises every day and the conversations we have about when he’s going, the answers go, ‘OK, great’ and off he goes,” said Maurice. He’s hit that maturity level at this point in his career. Whether he gets an opportunity to be a No. 1 guy in the future (or) if he has to carry the ball here for a long period of time, injuries or whatever, that’s possible.
“But he understands with Connor and the year that he had and the quality of Connor as a goaltender, there may be stretches where he doesn’t get in the net. But you can’t see any of that being processed in his practices. He hasn’t had a bad day. If it was, some pucks got by him, he was the same energy level every day. I think that’s what’s allowing him stay at peak.”
Brossoit’s work ethic and professional approach has not gone unnoticed by teammates, either.
“When I first met him, you can tell he’s a really fit guy. He’s got that goalie body, big frame, big hands, long limbs and he’s very fit. Once he got on the ice, you see he competes extremely hard. In practice every day he battles, across the crease and sliding to make saves, never quits on a puck,” said defenceman Josh Morrissey. “That’s something you want in all your goalies but especially in the backup role, where you’re not playing for a while, and he works hard all the time to keep ready.
“We know we have that trust and confidence in him that he’s ready to go when he gets his name called.”
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).