DENVER - Laughter erupted in the Colorado Avalanche dressing room. And it was at David Aebischer’s expense. It was Jan. 25, the day after the Avalanche beat Calgary 7-4 at the Pepsi Center in a game that ended with Flames goalie Philippe Sauve engaging Aebischer in a — well, even Aebischer wouldn’t call it a “fight,” as no punches were thrown. How about “shoving match?” Or maybe even “slow dance.” “Did you see what (Calgary coach Darryl) Sutter said?” asked Jean Martineau, the team’s senior vice president, communications and team services. “He said they should have given two (penalty) minutes for wiping off mascara.” Aebischer simply smiled and shook his head. He wouldn’t let it bother him. In a season filled with recordbreaking highs and career-threatening lows, that has been Aebischer’s specialty. He never snapped during a dismal December, never gloated during a win streak in January. His steely demeanor remained constant through shutouts and blowouts, standing ovations and early hooks. “He’s always pretty level-headed,” Avalanche defenseman John-Michael Liles said. “He’s pretty quiet, and he’s really even-keel, which I think is a very good thing, especially for a goalie.” Especially this season. Aebischer, 27, lost three of his first four starts before reeling off seven straight victories. He then lost two straight, then won three in a row, including a shutout, before sinking into a slump and out of coach Joel Quenneville’s good graces. Starting Nov. 30, Aebischer allowed 19 goals in losing four straight starts. He was pulled from two of the games — backto-back starts — after allowing four goals on 16 shots in the first period Dec. 4 and five goals on 19 shots in just more than three periods Dec. 17. During that span he also allowed three goals on 20 shots in relief of Peter Budaj. Quenneville didn’t try too hard to hide his displeasure. Neither did the organization, which called rookie goalie Vitaly Kolesnik up from Lowell of the American Hockey League in early December. Carrying three goalies on a professional hockey team is like trying to fit three people on a motorcycle. It’s uncomfortable and, eventually, dangerous. “It was a tough process for the three goalies that were here,” Quenneville said. “It’s not an easy thing to go through. ‘Who’s playing next?’ And, ‘What’s my situation going to be?’ It’s like, you’re sitting there sometimes, even too patiently, and it’s frustrating. From being the No. 1 goalie to sitting there watching some nights, it was difficult.” In December, Aebischer spent five games on the bench as a backup. He spent five others in street clothes as rumors that he was to be shipped out of town intensified. “It’s something that you can’t worry about,” Aebischer said of the trade talk. “I think my parents and other people worry for me way too much in that department, so I don’t need to. It can’t really affect you. You don’t think about it.” Aebischer also didn’t let his time on the bench spoil his season. He kept working on his game, and he didn’t sulk when Kolesnik won his first two starts and momentarily became “The Solution” to Colorado’s problems. “I’m pretty sure he wasn’t happy, but he never showed any emotion,” Budaj said. “He never showed his unhappiness with not playing. . . . He handled it like a professional.” “I knew I was going to play sooner or later again, and I knew I could play well — that was never really the question,” Aebischer said. “It was only a question of when I would get my chance again. I just practiced as hard as I could so whenever I got in there I would play well.” Aebischer got his chance in the new year and immediately won seven straight games. He finished January 9-2-1, breaking Patrick Roy’s franchise record for wins in the month. More importantly, Aebischer did not give up the “soft” goals he allowed in December because of improved positioning and a more conservative approach. “He’s more patient in the net,” Quenneville said. “He’s in control. He’s finding the puck and seeing it. He’s controlling his rebounds, and I think his consistency is basically reflecting in that.” But much like the quarterback on a football team, a goalie often receives too much credit for his team’s successes and too much blame for its failures. The latter applied to Aebischer in December. Though his stats, along with the promotion of Kolesnik, made him a natural scapegoat, the defense in front of him deserved much of the blame for his struggles. “It wasn’t just him,” Liles said. “It was the team effort that defined our December. That’s for sure.” Similarly, Aebischer’s ninewin January was due in large part to the play of the skaters in Colorado’s zone. “Our play’s been consistent in front of him,” Quenneville said. “So I think it’s gone handin-hand.” As for his run-in with Sauve, Aebischer shrugged it off — “It was just shuffling around a little bit,” he said. But, believe it or not, mildmannered Aebischer does have some experience as a hockey pugilist. Playing for the Swiss Junior Team at age 19, he started a brawl during a game against Canada. “But we won the game,” he said. “I guess back then the good thing was Swiss players were a little bit intimidated. And I was young and stupid.” That’s not the case anymore. CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0365 or email@example.com
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