'I'm looking forward to being a Senator'
Leclaire itching to make first appearance in goal for his new team
|Pascal Leclaire was introduced to Ottawa media back in March after being obtained in a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Five months later, he's still anxiously awaiting his first chance to tend goal for the Senators (Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images).
His hockey life and world has changed immensely since then, to say the least. And when the 26-year-old goaltender answers his next call to move between the pipes, he'll happily begin writing what he believes will be the most exciting chapter yet in his still-young hockey career.
"I missed hockey a lot," said Leclaire, the netminder the Ottawa Senators acquired in a March 4 deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets. "Now I'm pretty happy where I am, considering where I was the last six months. It's all good."
Leclaire last tended goal Dec. 18, 2008, at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, where the Blue Jackets dropped a 5-4 overtime decision to the Stars. A month later, he was undergoing season-ending ankle surgery and watching rookie sensation Steve Mason grab hold of the starting job in Columbus.
Then in March came the trade to Ottawa, a hockey-mad Canadian market that's a short drive from his off-season home in Montreal. While his new teammates finished out their season, Leclaire watched from the sidelines, biding his time and waiting for the green light to hit the ice gain.
As frustrating as that might seem to some, Leclaire can look back now and see it as the ideal transition to a new hockey home.
"You know what, it was good because I was able to get used to the city without having to play, change things or look for houses," he said in an interview with ottawasenators.com. "It made things a lot easier to settle in. And being close to home, I can come in (to Ottawa) during the summer.
"So when I start (the season), I'll be all settled and just focused on hockey. I won't have to worry about getting cable or finding a house or a place to stay. I'll be all settled in and I had a lot of time to do it. So that was a good thing."
Leclaire knows it's also given the fans and the critics plenty of time to ramp up the expectation levels for him in Ottawa. This is a guy, after all, who ranked among the National Hockey League's top stoppers in 2007-08, posting a 24-17-6 record with a 2.25 goals-against average, .919 save percentage and nine shutouts. All of this for a non-playoff team that scored the fewest goals in the league.
He also knows Senators management is counting upon him to be the one to end its long search for a bona fide No. 1 goaltender. But that won't be front and centre in Leclaire's mind when he hits the ice with his teammates in September.
"To me, the biggest pressure is to come in and earn the trust of your teammates," said Leclaire, a native of Repentigny, Que. "To me, that's the most important thing and you do that by playing well and being consistent. There will be a lot of media attention and everybody is going to talk about it because I missed time (with the injury) and my position.
"It seems to be a pattern here but I don't get caught up in that kind of stuff. I try to control what I can control and everything else is a bonus. If I'm happy in the dressing room and on the ice with the team, that's what is important to me."
But there is no doubt, too, that Leclaire is eager to prove he is the goaltender who shone so brightly two years ago in Columbus and went on to represent Canada at the 2008 IIHF World Hockey Championship in Quebec City and Halifax, where he posted a spotless 4-0-0 record.
"If you play a lot, it means you're doing something good. Both of those things go together and that's what I want to do."
While an ugly purple scar on the top of his right ankle offers a reminder of what he's been through, Leclaire said all of that is in the past now. He is healthy and ready to move forward.
"When I left (for NHL Players' Association meetings in Paris three weeks ago), I knew it was good because I skated every day for a week," he said. "To me, that was the big thing. The last two or three days, (the ankle) felt pretty normal. A couple of things changed in my workouts but everything is perfect."
So, too, is the opportunity that is now being presented to him. The chance to finally play hockey again, and in a city and a country where the passion for the game runs so deeply.
Needless to say, Leclaire can't wait to strap on the pads and get started.
"I'm pretty excited for this year," he said. "I think there's even been more of a build up because I came in and didn't play right away. I'm still waiting, but I'm looking forward to playing my first game and really being an Ottawa Senator. I'd like to play and get that out of the way.
"I'm really looking forward to getting it going for real. That's the main focus now. I've missed eight months of hockey so when you add everything up together, it's pretty exciting."