It’s not uncommon in sports for a relocated franchise’s new management to put their stamp on the team within the first year. The Colorado Avalanche front office did that back in 1995 when they made a multi-player trade with the Montreal Canadiens that allowed them to acquire future NHL Hall of Fame goalie Patrick Roy. Roy would lead the Avs — formerly known as the Quebec Nordiques — to the franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup win in their first season in Denver.
Flash-forward to 2011, True North Sports and Entertainment purchases the Atlanta Thrashers franchise and relocates the team to Winnipeg. Instead of trading for a marque 50-goal scorer that would stamp a new identity on the franchise, Jets management has more or less kept the Thrasher’s roster intact. This strategy has paved the way for Winnipeg’s blossoming love affair with Ondrej Pavelec, the young goaltender from Czech Republic who has played a critical role in keeping the Jets playoff hopes alive after a disastrous stretch in January.
While surely not in the running for the Vezina Trophy, Pavelec remains the most consistent Jets player thus far this season, and has rightly earned the confidence of the management, his teammates and fans.
Resilient performances, like the 50-save showing he put up against the high-powered Philadelphia Flyers on Feb. 21, have allowed the humble net-minder’s legend around the ’Peg to grow. In the disappointing 5-4 overtime loss to the Flyers, Pavelec made a series of amazing saves late in the third period that brought the 15,004 in attendance at the MTS Centre to their feet, as chants of “Pavy! Pavy!” rang through the rafters.
Defensively, the Jets fell apart late in the game: Wayne Simmonds scored the tying goal with only 10.8 seconds remaining in regulation, which allowed Jaromir Jagr snipe the game winning goal to steal the glory from Pavelec. Both team captain Andrew Ladd and Tim Stapleton, in the post game media scrums, were quick to point out that it was the team that let Pavelec down, and not the other way around.
In the Jets’ next game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Pavelec would continue to demonstrate his quality, making another remarkable save on the Lightning’s first scoring chance of the night. His early heroics would prove to be the difference as Winnipeg held off a late surge by the Bolts and secured victory in regulation, 4-3.
With the win the Jets leapfrogged over six teams in the Eastern Conference to find themselves atop the Southeast division. If Pavelec and backup goaltender Chris Mason can continue to offer sound performances between the pipes, the Jets will remain a legitimate playoff contender.
Receiving the lion’s share of time in net for only the second season of his NHL career, Pavelec has yet to start in an NHL playoff game. He does have a Calder Cup to his name, as he helped lead the AHL’s Chicago Wolves a championship in 2007-08.
The jury is still out on whether the Jets will make the playoffs, but if they do, you can be certain that Pavelec has the full support of the Jets’ coaching staff. Head coach Claude Noel, after Pavelec’s performance against the Flyers, said: “You can win championships with goalies like that, goaltending like that.”