Friday, January 21, 2011

José Theodore lives in the moment

The veteran NHL goalie stood up to some of life's hard shots and, at least for now, is savoring his time in the Wild's net.

By MICHAEL RUSSO, Star Tribune
Last update: January 21, 2011 - 10:01 PM

Only one NHL team can boast that its backup goaltender once was the NHL's most valuable player.

That's the Wild, and on Wednesday night, that injured former Hart Trophy winner, José Theodore, settled in the Saddledome press box high above the Calgary ice.

Things are slower way up top. You can see every passing and shooting lane and can't grasp how little time and space there actually is. Even the immense traffic in front of the net doesn't seem as menacing.

"The game's easy up here," the goalie said. "My [four older] brothers, they'll sit behind the net when I'm playing and are amazed at how little I can see."

Just like that, Kyle Brodziak sets up Martin Havlat with a lunging pass. "What a play by Brodzy!" yells Theodore.

A couple of minutes later, Mikko Koivu whistles a power-play goal through Andrew Brunette's screen. "See what I mean? Look at Bruno. Perfect position," Theodore says.

Theodore was vested, with lines like, "Nice save, Backy [Niklas Backstrom]!" and "Come on, boys!" and "Huge goal!"

Theodore, 34, didn't adhere to the "no cheering in the press box" mandate on this night, a 6-0 Wild blowout. But Theodore is not accustomed to watching games in a press box either.

From decoration to desolation

Theodore, who practiced Friday and will back up Backstrom on Saturday night against the Sharks after missing four games because of a hip injury, is one of the NHL's most decorated goalies. He has won 253 games and a Vezina Trophy and is one of six goalies in NHL history to win the Hart.

Heck, as Theodore jokes, "not too many goalies can say Patrick Roy was his backup." In Montreal, Theodore played one career game with the Hall of Famer -- a preseason game, in which Theodore started and Roy rode the pine.

Wild fans especially know Theodore's ability. As Brunette, his former Colorado Avalanche teammate, says, "Theo can take his game to another level." It was Theodore who held the Wild to 12 goals and Marian Gaborik to none in six games during Colorado's 2008 playoff upset of the division-winning Wild.

But Theodore is the first to admit he has suffered ups and downs in his career. Still, for reasons Theodore doesn't entirely understand, he went unsigned last summer and nearly got squeezed out of the NHL until the Wild's Josh Harding tore his right ACL and MCL in September.

Theodore played for the high-risk Washington Capitals, yet went 30-7-7 with a .911 save percentage last season and didn't lose in regulation the last 24 games.

"You start to get worried," Theodore said. "I wanted to stay positive, but when training camp started, I didn't know what to do, where to get ice to keep training. I knew I still had a lot to give. It was frustrating. For whatever reason though, I had a feeling it wasn't it."

A turn for the tragic

It was an extraordinary season that followed a tragic offseason for Theodore.

On August 20, 2009, Theodore and his wife, Stephanie, were devastated when their infant son, Chace, died of respiratory complications two months after being born premature.

"It still hurts," Theodore, with eyes watering, said. "It's a day-to-day battle because there's always something out there on TV, in the stands, talking to somebody, that reminds you. It's always tough.

"I think that's why I'm so proud of how I played last year. I didn't know how I'd react. You never know. You never prepare for a tragedy like this. Nobody understand until it happens. I never wish anybody should live this."

Theodore won the 2010 Bill Masterton Trophy for perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication.

"The [NHL Awards] ceremony was almost exactly a year later, June 23. Chace was born June 22. That's why I was so emotional," Theodore said.

To honor his son's sadly short 54-day life, Theodore created Saves for Kids, a fundraising program that benefits the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Children's National Medical Center in Washington. The Washington Capitals have kept the program going.

The drug test fiasco

Theodore has been a fascinating player over his 14-year career.

In 2006, he made news when he failed a random drug test before the Olympics that led to a two-year ban on international play.

The drug found in his system was finasteride, an ingredient in the hair loss-prevention medication, Propecia, that can be used to mask a performance-enhancing drug taken by bodybuilders. Theodore, who needs a heavy breakfast to weigh 180, is not a bodybuilder.

"It was kind of funny because I started taking the pill at 21 or 22 for prevention, I take it once a day and I was tested maybe seven times over the years -- in the world championships at 23, in Europe during the lockout, in the World Cup, in the Olympic camp that August in Vancouver. Everything was always OK.

"Then November comes, and they're like, 'We found this.' I was like, 'What? I've been playing internationally for years.' I mean, Team Canada was aware. They just didn't know it was banned, I guess. But it had nothing to do with the NHL. They know I take it, and I wouldn't have made the Olympics anyway."

Hitting the right notes

Most impressive in his career may be surviving the pressure of being a French-Canadian playing under the Montreal microscope.

"It really pushed me to be good every night," he said. "In Montreal, you can win player of the month and if you have a bad game the next day, they're like, 'Who's going to be in net tomorrow?' Like a lot of other players, it gets to the point you can't win that battle and have to get out of there. But it really taught me to challenge myself."

Theodore looks and dresses as if he should be modeling for GQ. An avid guitar player and friends with lots of musicians, he has hopped on stage to play with Simple Plan, NOFX and Pennywise. He played in front of 100,000 people at a music festival in Montreal with Francophone rocker Eric Lapointe.

"I'm a big Ramones fan," Theodore said. "Actually, before Johnny Ramone's passing [in 2004], I talked to him a month before. I said, 'We're going to be in L.A. in two months. I hope to catch up.' He said, 'I hope I make it to then.'

"But I'm a big music guy. When I was a kid, I was a big skateboarder. I'd bring my skateboard everywhere and skate on everything I could find. I got into the underground punk scene, but I'm really diverse in what I like, from Red Hot Chili Peppers to Linkin Park to hip-hop to Frank Sinatra."

Theodore's chest, arms and back are loaded with tattoos, from tributes to his wife and 4-year-old daughter, Romy, to his love of music to LX -- the roman numeral of his sweater number, 60.

He's also "an absolutely unreal teammate," Brunette said. "Goalies are a different breed. Not Theo. He's very normal. You go to dinner with him and he'll shoot the breeze and tell stories and make you laugh, and you don't even know he's starting tomorrow. Very laid back."

And solid in Minnesota, winning eight games, including three in a row before getting hurt.

Like last summer, Theodore's future is uncertain. If the Wild falls out of a playoff race, it might consider trading him. You can bet the Wild would love to re-sign Theodore for next season, but as he said, "I always want to be a No. 1 and still think I can be.

"But I always say, 'Whoever is playing the game that night is the No. 1 that night.' The last 25 games, I can't complain the way Todd [Richards] has been using me. Me and Backy are a great team, and I just want to support my teammates down the road. I want to play in the playoffs, and I'd love it to be here."


  1. Absolutely love the profile, but I'm not sure the Caps kept Saves for Kids going. (I've emailed Russo to that effect)

  2. Needless to say, I'm watching the Star Tribune archive site so I can order copies of the print article. Online is great, but there's nothing like seeing the print.

  3. Oh really? The Caps might not have kept it going, but the hospital has. Or they had about a month ago. I sent a check and in the memo put Saves for Kids, and I got a letter back thanking me. So it's still possible to donate to the charity, but maybe the Caps have nothing to do with it now.

  4. I've got a big smile on my face. Loved it.


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