The audition is over. Opening night has arrived. Raise the curtain.
On the Thrashers’ season, yes; but more so on Ondrej Pavelec.
When the Thrashers begin the 2009-10 campaign Saturday at home against Tampa Bay, Pavelec likely will be in goal. He and Johan Hedberg are the two goaltenders still standing -- with Kari Lehtonen on injured reserve -- after a competition-filled training camp. The Thrashers brought in seven goaltenders to fight it out. Two remain -- for now.
Another decision must be made when Lehtonen returns from offseason back surgery, but for now, Pavelec is on top.
“Pavelec has played well the whole training camp. Right now, he’s kind of got the number-one job,” Thrashers coach John Anderson said earlier this week.
Forgive the mixed metaphor, “He’s got the ball,” Anderson added.
The competition included a former All-Star and Stanley Cup winner in Manny Legace on a pro tryout, free-agent signees Drew MacIntyre and Peter Mannino and another try-out player in Josh Unice.
“It was pressure on me,” Pavelec said. “It was competition. I didn’t really look around. I just concentrated on myself. I can’t control all those things. It’s not up to me. What’s up to me is to play good hockey and show my best.”
Bring up the spotlight.
Pavelec opens the season with just 19 games of NHL experience over two seasons. However, Anderson has seen Pavelec much more than the 12 games he played with the Thrashers last season. Pavelec was in goal for Anderson in Chicago, including the 2007-08 season when they won the AHL’s Calder Cup championship. During that season, Pavelec appeared in 52 games with a .911 save percentage and a 2.77 goals-against average. He had slightly better numbers last season in the 40 games he played in Chicago, a .910 save percentage with a 2.58 goals-against average.
Anderson's first-hand knowledge was a big factor, perhaps the biggest, in where Pavelec stands today.
“I know what he can do,” Anderson said. “It’s time for him to step up. … I went through this progression with him in Chicago. Is he the guy that’s going to lead us to the promise land? He got better and better. Hopefully, that’s what’s going to happen here.”
Pavelec, from the Czech Republic, went 3-7 with a save percentage of .880 and a goals-against average of 3.61 for the Thrashers last season. Not stellar numbers, but there is potential in the team's second-round draft pick from 2005. This could be his moment to shine.
“I just tried to prepare for the first game,” Pavelec said. “The number-one job was open, and I tried to grab it.”
Pavelec’s biggest attribute is his size -- all 6-foot-2, 215 pounds of him.
“He’s a good goalie,” Hedberg said. “He’s very large in the net. He takes up a lot of the net. He’s got a good head on his shoulders, too. He’s got a winning mentality. Obviously, everyone can get better. He’s gotten better through the years.”
Pavelec got the biggest tryout in the exhibition season. He started three of the six preseason games, stopping 86 of 97 shots (.887). However, in the final preseason game he stopped just 21 of 26 shots in a 5-1 loss to the Lightning, the very same opponent he will face Saturday.
Anderson calls the game a “mulligan.” Pavelec, too, wants another shot.
“It’s hockey. They can win 5-1. We can win 5-1,” he said.