The NHL's other Patrick
By Nick Lewis
Sixteen starts. Fourteen wins. Three shutouts. No losses.
The pubescent resumé of Pittsburgh Penguin rookie goaltender Patrick Lalime screams future superstar from the first dab of ink.
Since replacing injured Penguins' goaltender Ken Wregget in December, the youngster has pulled off an impressive run to begin his NHL career. In that time, the Penguins have leapt into first place with Lalime's league-leading 1.82 goals against average and .942 save percentage helping them build their current undefeated streak.
The 22-year old from St. Bonaventure, Quebec who recently broke Ken Dryden's record for the longest undefeated streak by a rookie goaltender never saw the Hall-of-Famer play.
"I never really saw him," he said shyly. "He was before my time. I have a book on him at home, but I haven't really had the time to read it."
In reality, the youngster is more likely to be compared to his idol Patrick Roy.
"I have long been a fan of the Montreal Canadiens," he said. "I watched [Roy] win both Stanley Cups with them. Hopefully I can follow in his footsteps."
In his rookie season in 1986, Roy led Montreal to a Stanley Cup championship, a feat Pittsburgh hockey fans are hoping Lalime can duplicate.
"It's really nice to be compared to [him]," he said. "But I am not Patrick Roy, I am Patrick Lalime and I want to make a name for myself.
"(Roy) is the best goalie in the world. I'm looking forward to having the kind of career he had."
Lalime will climb another rung on the big-league ladder when he plays in Montreal's newly-constructed Molson Centre in front of his hometown crowd.
"I can't wait to play against the Canadiens," he said. "It's always been a dream for me. But I'm still taking it one day at a time."
The young man speaks softly but reveals pride and enthusiasm as he recalls his first win in the NHL, a 4-0 shutout in the unfriendly confines of San Jose's Shark Tank.
"I was very excited when I had my first win," he said. "It was my first shutout. I'm there on the ice with Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and everybody else and I was just so amazed. But then you have to get over it because you have to play with these guys, so you have to work together.
"I just went in there with a lot of confidence. The name of the game is confidence in this league. When you think too much, it gets bad. You just gotta go out there and do it."
After spending the first half of the season with the Cleveland Lumberjacks of the International Hockey League, Lalime figures he is here to stay in the majors. He remains grounded when he considers his role and responsibilities with his new team.
"I hope to be in the NHL for life," he said. "You gotta work everyday and never take anything for granted. Ken [Wregget] is back in two or three weeks and he's still the number-one goalie for this team.
"I haven't replaced him."
The step up from the IHL has not hurt Lalime's game as many critics suspected. Rather, it has brought out the best in him, a fact he gladly admits.
"The IHL is a good league you have a lot of good players who come out and become third or fourth-liners in the NHL. The difference in the NHL is that play is faster and everybody knows what's going on. The players here don't tease with the puck, they just shoot."
When they do shoot, Lalime will be there. If his Cinderella story continues the way it has begun, the sky is the limit for this young talent.
"You don't really know what to expect from the start of your career," he said. "But I'm looking to build up on this great start.
"For now I'm just excited about my hockey card coming out this year."