(originally published December 2009)
The name "Pickard" instills excitement in many hockey fans… and apprehension in many hockey players, and it doesn't matter which first name you pair with it.
Chet - the Western Hockey League's Goaltender of the Year in 2007-08 and 2008-09. One of two goaltenders for Team Canada at the 2009 World Junior HockeyChampionships. Named to the WHL West First All-Star Team in 2008 and 2009 for his stellar play in net for the Tri-City Americans. Drafted 18thoverall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft by the Nashville Predators. Now making his mark with the Preds' AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals.
Calvin – member of Canada's Under-18 Team that took gold over the summer at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. One of two goaltenders who helped Team WHL pull of a series sweep at the Subway Super Series tournament in Victoria in November. Just selected to play in the NHL Prospects game on January 20 in Windsor, Ontario (more information here). Currently ranked #1 among WHL goalies by Central Scouting for his amazing play in net for the Seattle Thunderbirds, including two memorable (some would say "amazing") games against his brother's old team, Tri City.
October 2, 2009. Calvin stops 57 out of 57 shots to help the T-Birds beat the Americans 1-0 and earn his first shutout of the season. (We'll talk about the second game a little later).
When asked what he remembers about that 57-stop game, Calvin says, "It was one of those nights where everything kind of went well for me: got some calls, got some blocks, our defense played pretty well, clearing out rebounds so everything just clicked."
Chet's amazed about his brother's feat, but not surprised. "It's pretty impressive. You're not going to see many of those around. I don't think many people out there can do that. Calvin's a really good goalie. Calvin's been good since the first day he put on the pads."
That's high praise coming from a guy known for his cool play between the pipes. But Chet will quickly tell you that he believes Calvin has more natural ability in goal, while Chet has had to work hard to hone his skills. Calvin agrees that he is the more natural athlete, but says he learned a lot from watching his brother. "He's got a great work ethic and he's really disciplined. He's earned everything he's gotten to this day."
Their father Dan says Chet and Calvin have different strengths – and have been able to help each other fill a void. "At a younger age, Calvin showed a lot more, I'll call it, stronger mental game than his older brother, and his older brother had a stronger physical game than his younger brother. It's kind of an interesting dynamic that we watched take place. Calvin is much more into the physical aspect and preparation in his game now and Chet is much, much stronger in the mental part of his game than he was when he was younger."
Chet, being two years older than his 17 year old brother, made the first foray into net around the age of 7 or 8, while playing for a Timbits team in New Brunswick. "I just remember playing at that age when everybody had to be the goalie for a game and when my turn came around, I really enjoyed it."
Dan says Chet's future was sealed with help from a little mix-up at hockey camp that summer. "We showed up at camp with his little bag of hockey gear and the guy who was organizing the camp said, 'We have him down as a goaltender.' I said, 'Well, he's not a goaltender, he played only one game.' And Chet looked up at me and said, 'I'd like to play in goal.'" The man running the camp owned a second hand equipment store and got Chet some goaltending gear. At the end of camp, the organizers told Dan that Chet showed a natural ability in net, noting, among other things, "He doesn't twitch when the puck is shot at him."
Calvin says he decided to try goaltending because Chet played goalie, but Dan says Calvin could have played any position. "He was a very talented player no matter whether he played forward or defense." Calvin played goal through his team's playoffs, and when he tried out for an elite team the next season, Dan was told Calvin would have to choose which position to try out for. "That was when Calvin decided he wanted to become a goaltender full time."
Dan says it was easier to raise two goaltenders, even though Chet and Calvin grew up playing on different teams. "It was easy for them to bounce thoughts and ideas and have a healthy relationship competitive-wise and healthy respect for each other. It made it easier for my wife and I to deal with both of them because we could compare and support them both the same way."
The biggest challenge? Juggling schedules and games, but Dan and his wife Cathy seem to have made it work. "We tried to have one parent at every one of their games. I'm a bit of a hockey… I wouldn't say fanatic but very dedicated to the sport, so I went to most practices. At least one of us would be at every game, depending on what our travel or work schedules would be."
Last season, they had a difficult decision to make: Who would go see Chet play with Team Canada in the World Junior Championships in Ottawa, and who would go to Port Alberni to watch Calvin play with Team West in the World Under-17 tournament? Dan thought Cathy would opt for Ottawa, since she has family there, but she surprised him.
"My wife said, 'I'm going to watch Calvin if Chet makes World Juniors.' My daughter came with me to Ottawa and we watched Chet in the World Juniors."
Chet and Calvin say they don't have the words to express their gratitude. Says Chet: "My parents are unreal with the support they gave us. They put a lot of miles on their cars and a lot of money out of their pockets for us. Hopefully one day we can reward them by both playing in the NHL and sending them on a cruise somewhere." (Chet laughs) "It's exciting to have the biggest hockey parents around. They love us and they take care of us and they support us no matter how tough of times we go through."
Calvin agrees: "I give them so much credit, for driving us to the rink, being there for every little situation we had with hockey, to things like making us food, paying the gas bill to drive us everywhere. Having Chet and me both being goalies, you don't see that too often. We love our parents, they're good people and everything we did together was happy and they had fun doing it."
With such a close-knit family, how hard was it for Chet and Calvin to travel so far from home to play junior hockey? Dan said both boys looked forward to the adventure. "In Chet's case, he did not want to be close to home. He wanted to be further away. In Calvin's case, he wanted to go to a big city. It just so happened that both boys got drafted to the same state."
Chet loved playing for Tri City. "It was really good for me, right from Day One. The whole organization, from the owners to the coaches, they all really supported me. They gave me all the chances in the world. When I was 18 and finally took over the starting job (after Carey Price left to play for the Montreal Canadiens), they prepared me well. I've got a lot of respect for what they do there in the Tri Cities. Everybody is first class and they really treated me well and supported me well, even through the tough games."
What's his best memory with the Ams? "That one year when we finally hung our first banner there (US Division Champions 2008) and how excited everybody was when we beat Spokane in the final game of the season, to raise that banner. It was an exciting season, not only for the players but the fans, who have stuck around for the 20-odd years they've been there."
Calvin says his transition from home to the WHL has also been smooth. "Since the whole organization has played such a huge role in making this a comfortable spot to play, I feel the transition has been rather easy. The coaching staff, Paul Fricker, my goalie coach, have been a great help for me physically on the ice and mentally. Lastly, I could not possibly have better teammates then what I have right now. They are always in good spirits and a pleasure to be around."
Both say they benefited from having wonderful and supportive billet families, who remain close with all the Pickards.
Chet says his biggest challenge in moving from the WHL to AHL is the lifestyle change, both on and off the ice. "You get to a level like this and everybody's quicker, everybody can shoot the puck harder. My biggest thing is, I've gotta be quicker. I'm working on agility drills off the ice and when it comes to being on the ice, just pushing myself every day and getting out of my comfort zone."
Chet says he looks to former Tri City teammate and friend Carey Price for inspiration. "Carey's a unique guy. Most goalies don't play in the NHL right after their last year in juniors. Carey was in a situation where he could do that. He's got a lot of pressure on him in Montreal but the first two games of this year, he stood on his head and won the games for his team. I look up to Carey. He's a great goalie and a great friend and he's helped me out so much."
Chet's using his time in Milwaukee to prepare and give himself the best chance to play well, once he reaches the NHL. "I'm here to work hard every single day, just do what I do, control what I can control and see what happens."
He's also learning to live on his own. "I'd say that's one of the biggest adjustments – managing your own time, cooking your own meals, paying the bills and all that. You've got to manage your time and manage what you do. It's a big change but I'm getting used to it."
These are things that Calvin will also have to get used to. He'll turn 18 in April and is eligible for the NHL Entry Draft, which takes place in Los Angeles in June. If he continues his stellar play, there's no doubt that he will be drafted high in the first round. He's on everyone's radar and has been featured in a number of articles, including a profile on nhl.com. But Calvin is trying to remain level headed about things.
"You try and not let yourself get overwhelmed by those things. I want to have the attitude I've had all my life – just go out and play every game, treat every game the same, prepare the exact same way, just be the best goalie you can be every day and at the end of the day, it will hopefully fall into place."
How did a 17 year old get so level-headed? Father Dan says watching the hoopla that surrounded Chet helps, but that Calvin has always been on an even keel. "One thing they both understand is that it's very fleeting. It's all about work and it's all about productivity. I think he (Calvin) knows how to keep it (the attention) separate from what he knows his day-to-day job is, which is stopping pucks for Seattle."
Speaking of stopping pucks, remember that amazing game against the Tri City Americans on October 2, where Calvin stopped 57 shots for a 1-0 shutout win? The Ams traveled to ShoWare Center in Kent again on December 11th. This time, Calvin stopped 54 out of 55 shots to help the T-Birds win 5-1. His save percentage is 0.924, second highest in the WHL, behind James Reid of Spokane.
And Chet? He's finding his feet in Milwaukee and gaining confidence. His save percentage: a respectable 0.910. Calvin has no doubt his brother will shine in the pros. "Chet's an unbelievable goalie. He tore up this league (WHL) for the past couple of seasons in Tri City and was part of the reason they were so good. There's no reason he can't do it at the next level and then soon to be the NHL, too."
Dan and Cathy and daughter Kelly are content to watch Chet and Calvin use their passion and talent to their best ability. "When you think of the numbers of kids that are playing, and being able to have that level of success for one, let alone two, is just crazy. It's really kind of unbelievable but we give all the credit to their coaches, to the boys themselves for the work effort and the passion they put into the game. I end every one of my text messages, 'Good luck and have fun.'"
The Pickards are busy planning their travel schedule for the rest of the season. They won't have to go far to see Chet play in January: the Admirals travel to Winnipeg play the Canucks' AHL team, the Manitoba Moose. In the meantime, they'll keep in daily touch with Chet and Calvin by phone, text and internet… and maybe dream of a little California sunshine in June.