VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Brian Boucher needed about two months to become comfortable as the Calgary Flames’ backup goalie after he was traded from Phoenix in February. The Colorado Avalanche wants Jose Theodore to become spectacular as its starter in about two weeks — after being injured for two months, after being traded from Montreal and right as the playoffs begin. Acquiring Theodore from the Canadiens for goalie David Aebischer was a move fraught with risk and potential reward. “I don’t think they thought it was risky,” NBC analyst and former NHL coach Pierre McGuire said of the Avalanche brain trust. “They feel very comfortable and confident that they can make it work. But people around the league clearly thought it was risky.” Theodore, 29, is one of the NHL’s most talented goalies. He won the Hart Memorial trophy, given to the league’s MVP, and shared the Vezina trophy in 2001-02. But he had some off-ice distractions in Montreal. Perhaps the most infamous occurred in late 2004 and early 2005. His father, Ted Nicholas Theodore, and half-brother, Nicky, pleaded guilty to loan sharking and possession of an unlicensed weapon, according to the Montreal Gazette. Three other brothers later pleaded guilty to conspiracy. Ted Theodore ran the loan-sharking business from a Montreal wig shop. Authorities said Jose was not involved. Theodore played in 38 games for the Canadiens this season. He was 17-15-5, with a 3.46 goals-against average and a save percentage of .881. Those are poor numbers for a goalie making a reported $5.5 million this season. On Feb. 16, during the Olympic break (he wasn’t chosen for Team Canada), Theodore broke his right heel putting salt on ice outside his house in Montreal. The Avalanche won two Stanley Cups in large part because it traded for goalie Patrick Roy, who also had a tumultuous ending to his Montreal career. General manager Pierre Lacroix wants a similar result. “This is a move we are making to assure our fan base that we’re here for one reason, we want to be playing in the last game of the year,” Lacroix said on March 8, when the trade was made. Theodore hadn’t played since Jan. 31 and he didn’t play again until April 9, when he relieved Peter Budaj in the Avalanche’s loss to Minnesota. Theodore started the next three games, including Saturday night’s contest here against the Vancouver Canucks. “Every day I keep feeling better and better,” Theodore said Friday. “And that’s what I want to do. I just want to improve every day. Every game I’ve played so far I’ve felt better, so I’m going to keep working hard and improving.” Thursday’s game was a 2-0 loss in Calgary, but one of the Flames’ goals was an empty-netter. Theodore made 23 saves in that game and stopped 21 of 25 shots in his first start for Colorado, a 6-2 win over Phoenix. “I think he’s been solid in all his starts,” Quenneville said. “He had his best game (Thursday). I feel he’ll probably improve in each and every start over this stretch, knowing your timing, equipment and conditioning and getting a little bit more familiar with how the ‘D’ is in front of you and getting a little bit more feel for what our formations are and anticipating dumps and rims. He’s a student of the game, also.” Colorado concludes the regular season Monday in Edmonton. The playoff matchups are uncertain. The first games are Friday, but not all series start that night. Regardless, that isn’t much time — and that’s part of the risk. “It’s always risky when it’s a goaltender because, one, there’s more attention paid to it, and two, so much of your team’s collective confidence comes from the skill of your goaltender,” said longtime hockey broadcaster Mike Emrick, now with OLN. “How many coaches have you talked to who have said, ‘We were in this thing until we had one bad goal?’” Players and coaches agreed that getting used to a new goalie is not nearly as difficult as getting used to a new quarterback in football or a new point guard in basketball, but there is a learning curve for goalies and defensemen. “Every goalie, there’s a little difference in when he plays the puck, how he’s going to leave it behind the net, what he likes to do with the puck, how he makes his passes, the whole works,” Colorado defenseman Kurt Sauer said. “Some goalies are more aggressive and like playing it up the ice like (Dallas goalie Marty) Turco. The other goalies leave it back to the ‘D.’” Colorado players say Theodore plays the puck more than Budaj, who had been the starter after the trade. Theodore also is left-handed, so his glove and stick hands are opposite Budaj’s. Most potential problems are solved, Sauer said, with good communication. “The onus is as much on the D-men as it is on the goalie when the goalie has the puck,” he said. “You’ve got to talk to him because he’s got his back to the wall. . . . It’s for sure a team effort back there.” Communication extends to knowing how to call out to teammates, according to Flames goalie coach David Marcoux. “It makes things a lot easier when you can basically call a guy out by his nickname to know that (Jarome Iginla) is ‘Iggy’ and not ‘Jarome,’” he said. Theodore said teammates have helped his transition. He still must return to game shape and re-adjust to competition. Boucher missed the first 2½ months of the season with a torn groin. He worked hard in practice to prepare for his return but said it was impossible to recreate the speed and intensity of games in practice. “And right now in practice (at this point in the season), it’s a quick 15, 20 minutes,” he said. Also working against Theodore, according to Boucher, is moving from the Eastern Conference to the Western. “From what I understand, people say it’s still grind-it-out in the East,” Boucher said. “Teams like Ottawa can run it up and stuff, but for the most part, the teams out West are high-flying and there are some big scorers out here. There are some teams that can really fill the net.” Several factors help Theodore, however. One, according to Marcoux, is an ability to get in shape quickly. Marcoux, who holds a summer charity game, said Theodore always looked as if he was in regular-season form despite not having played since the end of the season. Another factor is that Theodore and Avalanche defenseman Patrice Brisebois played together for years in Montreal. Theodore is staying at Brisebois’ house in Colorado so he does not have to live in a hotel. A third factor is the fresh-start theory. Theodore had begun to wilt under intense media scrutiny in Montreal. Marcoux and others said he needed a new beginning. Finally, as McGuire pointed out, Theodore has the unequivocal support of Lacroix. Boucher said the trade was made just as much for Colorado’s long-term future as for this season. Still, giving Theodore the reins so late in the season is a leap of faith for Colorado and Lacroix, whose legacy will be tied to Theodore’s success or failure. “He’s going to have to be the starter if Colorado is going to have any success in the playoffs,” McGuire said. “No disrespect to Peter Budaj, but he’s not ready for prime time.” Whether Theodore is will be apparent in the next two weeks. CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0365 or email@example.com
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