Monday, August 23, 2010

Old Article About José's First Playoff Game

I found this article on the Soixante site yesterday. It was written after José's first playoff game when he was with the Montreal Candadiens. It was April 24, 1997 and he was 20 years old. In the game against the Devils, he played 107:37 and stopped 56 shots in a 4-3 triple OT win. He lost 7 pounds over the course of that game!

Here's the article:

"A Star Is Born"
by Jack Todd
Secaucus, N.J

Thursday night slid into Friday morning, a dark-haired, handsome boy from Sainte-Julie, a wrist shot away from the far side of the Lafontaine Tunnel, made the short walk through midnight into manhood.

While the New Jersey Devils came at him in red-and-black waves and a legend-in-the-making named Martin Brodeur barred the gate at the far end of the ice, Jose Theodore took the best the Devils could throw at him and flung it back in their faces.

Theodore faced 59 shots and lost seven pounds Thursday night and Friday morning. His back hurt. His legs ached. One mistake and the game was over. One mistake and the season was over.

"Until a guy plays a game like that," coach Mario Tremblay said yesterday, "you never know how he's going to react."

Tremblay and the Canadiens know now. From the time Lyle Odelein scored for the Devils to tie it at 3-3 with 1:36 left in regulation until Patrice Brisebois won it at 7:37 of the third overtime period, Theodore kept the Devils from scoring.
He faced 28 shots in overtime alone. Only one shot got through after a fashion. It was a blast from Brian Rolston that hit Theodore in the side and trickled across the crease.

"It was going wide," Theodore said yesterday, unwilling to concede that the Devils had beaten him in any way. "It wasn't going into the net but it could have been a rebound. But Vlad (Malakhov) knocked it away. I've still got a bruise from that shot."

For nearly the span of two complete hockey games, Theodore lived the dream of many a Montreal-born boy: playing goal for the Canadiens in a playoff game and going head-to head with Brodeur, who is merely the second-most legendary Quebec goalie in captivity.
"I always wanted to play against him," Theodore said. "I work with him at the (Vladislav) Tretiak hockey school, but I've never played against him before. By the time I got into junior at 16, he was already out of junior."

To win a duel with Brodeur is like fencing with Zorro and carving your initials in his silk shirt. But Theodore did more than beat Brodeur. By the time his night's work was over, this 20-year-old goaltender had:

- Saved his team from an embarrassing four-game sweep in the first round of the playoffs;

- Become the first Canadiens goalie to win a playoff game at the Molson Centre;

- Broken a seven-game playoff losing streak for the Canadiens;

- Extended to 13 the number of consecutive overtime games won by the Canadiens in the playoffs. That streak includes a league-record 10 straight overtime wins during the 1993 Stanley Cup run. Theodore extended the Canadiens shutout string in playoff overtimes to 166 minutes and 38 seconds nearly three complete games of shutout hockey in the pressure cooker of playoff overtime;

- Played the second-longest game of any goaltender making his playoff debut, threatening the record set by Boston's Frank Brimsek on March 21, 1939, when Brimsek and the Bruins defeated the Rangers 2-1 on a goal at 19:25 of the third overtime period.

Along the way, incidentally, the kid from Sainte-Julie just might have saved the jobs of his coach and general manager. Not bad for a night's work.

His reward? "I had about five minutes to talk to my mom and my girlfriend," Theodore said, "and then I had to get to the bus."

It was 4 a.m. by the time Theodore got to sleep at the team hotel in New Jersey. And when he got up yesterday, there was an endless stream of reporters waiting for interviews.

"After the fifth period, I said to myself, `when is this going to stop?' "

But Theodore never lost his cool. Maybe it has something to do with having four older brothers. As one observer said yesterday, "you have to be cocky to be a good goaltender. He's too young to be cocky off the ice but on the ice he's a very confident guy."

"I felt nervous for him when he was sitting there between periods," said Tremblay, who made the enormously difficult decision to start Theodore in place of a shaky Jocelyn Thibault at 4 a.m. Thursday.

"I kept asking him if he was alright. He just said, `Yeah coach, I'm OK.' That's him."

"I'll never forget it, that's for sure," Theodore said. "Thirty years from now, I'll remember that game."

Theodore said it was the biggest game of his life, bigger even than the championship game when he led Canada to the world junior championship.

"In the world junior, after the second period I knew we were going to win," he said. "This time I didn't know until we scored. I'll remember it all my life."

Yesterday, there were the inevitable comparisons. When you are 20 and you have just won an astounding playoff game for the Canadiens, someone is going to mention Patrick Roy:

"I didn't pattern my style after him," Theodore said. "My style is different from anyone. But I watched a lot of Canadiens games when I was younger. And I remember that he was 20 the first time he won the Cup. When you see someone who did that at 20, that is something to inspire you."

When Theodore was still a teenager, the immortal Tretiak himself pointed to Theodore and told TSN's Michael Whelan: "That one will be in the NHL very young."

Now Theodore is in the NHL, and in the minds of many people he should be anointed the starting goaltender for next season right now, especially in view of Jocelyn Thibault's history of playoff failures.

Former goaltender Jim Corsi, now a commentator on CJAD's hockey broadcasts, is much more cautious.

"Thibault is still the better technical goalie," Corsi said. "Over the long run, he has that technique to fall back on.

"And Thibault is very strong-minded. You have to be strong-minded to be a goalie at this level. Jocelyn is strong enough to come back from this."

Then Corsi began talking about Theodore, and you could sense his excitement.

"I like his aggression," Corsi said. "I like the way he goes at the puck. He's challenging the shot in all instances.

"He will make mistakes but I always say they're nothing wrong with an aggressive mistake, as long as you learn from that mistake."

Theodore's style appears to affect more than just the goaltending. Thursday night, the Canadiens' team defence was as aggressive as it has been all season.

"Of course it has an effect," Corsi said. "He's still not skilled at handling the puck, but he's not afraid to handle the puck. When you think about the great goalies who can handle the puck, people like Brodeur and Ron Hextall, they think like a hockey player and react like a goalie.
"You can tell a kid all the time to do this or do that, but at a certain point his instinct takes over. And Theodore's first instinct is to go at that puck. That's why I say he'll think like a player but react like a goalie."

By challenging the shooter in every instance, Theodore has the same effect on them that a shot-blocker like Dikembe Mutombo has on the jump-shooters of the National Basketball Association: he can't always block the shot, but he can alter the shot enough to make the shooter miss.

A goalie, however, still has to make the saves and when it comes to stopping the puck, Corsi believes Theodore's biggest asset is his legs:

"He has very strong legs. A lot of goalies have good heads, but he has the legs. He'll make a save, but if he has to go down he'll get back to his feet and if there's a rebound he'll make them miss."

Before you get too excited, remember Patrick Lalime. Spectacular as it was, Thursday's victory was just one game. The Canadiens are still down 3-1 and there is every possibility that the Devils will pick him apart tonight at the Continental Airlines Arena in Game 5.

But watching the way he helped lift this team Thursday night, you got the feeling there might be something special about the young man his teammates call "Theo" or, sometimes, "San Jose."

Funny. If you slide that about one saint and one language to the left, you've got "St. Patrick."

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