Ondrej Pavelec had two things to celebrate Friday — his second shutout of the year against the Phoenix Coyotes the night before and his native Czech Republic playing in Group A of soccer's 2012 European Championship.
“I think a lot of (NHL) players are going to be there,” the Winnipeg Jets netminder said of series set for next June. “I'm really excited to go there and see some games. We've got a big chance to play the quarter-final.”
And he was also pretty pleased with his part in the 1-0 win the Jets recorded over the Coyotes, who were the original Winnipeg Jets until they moved to Phoenix in 1996.
“I think yesterday was one of the best games we played defensively,” he said after a practice at the MTS Iceplex on the outskirts of Winnipeg.
Coach Claude Noel agreed, praising Pavelec for his part.
“He's played really well for us,” said Noel.
“I think this was a really good stepping stone for him in (Thursday) night's game, in a game where you can help us close out the game when we're up 1-0. It gives you an opportunity to help your teammates and I thought he did a great job there.”
It's also quite an accomplishment, considering the number of starting members of the Jets' defence missing in action due to injury. With leaders like Tobias Enstrom out, they've called up help from the St. John's Icecaps of the American Hockey League, Winnipeg's farm team, and Pavelec gave them credit for helping earn his second shutout of the season.
“The guys who got called up from St. John's did a really good job.”
The six-foot-three, 220-pounder is just 24 and played his junior hockey with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He was drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers in 2005 and signed with them in 2007.
He bounced back and forth between the Thrashers and their farm team until the 2009-2010 season, when he stayed almost entirely in Atlanta. In 2010-2011, their last in Atlanta before moving to Winnipeg, he played in 58 games.
He's certainly been getting lots of action this season. With Winnipeg's main backup Chris Mason out for about a month, he's already played in 22 of 25 games and ranks fifth among NHL goalies for the amount of ice time he's seen and third for games played.
Not that he minds.
“I'm happy I'm able to play and the coach trusts me, and that's why you work out in the summer, to be ready to play every game.”
The Jets recently concluded a gruelling road trip (11 out of 16 games in a roughly five-week span) and fatigue was one factor suggested in their 6-4 loss to the Ottawa Senators in Winnipeg on Tuesday, but Pavelec won't use that as an excuse.
“We couldn't close the game in the third and we took a penalty and they scored a goal. I wouldn't say it was because I was tired.”
Thursday the penalty box saw very little action, another shift in the way the Jets have been playing this year as they improved their record to 10-11-4.
Mason is now back in the lineup and Pavelec is likely to get a break now and then.
“He's going to get back into the rhythm of things,” Noel said after giving his No. 2 a thorough workout Friday.
“Is it one every four games? It's going to be something around there so we need to get him back playing. He's a workhorse and he loves to work and he always wants to get better and prepare himself to have success so we're going to get him in some games or a game coming up shortly.”
Having said that, Mason's groin injury isn't the only reason Pavelec has seen so much ice time, said Noel.
“He's been in a pretty good groove as of late so we're pretty happy with how he's played.”