It’s been a long road back to the Avalanche lineup for goaltender Pavel Francouz. But the most important thing to him is making it back. Even if it means having been inserted into two nearly unwinnable situations this season.
“I just decided to take it minute by minute,” Francouz said, after replacing starter Darcy Kuemper down three goals. “After such a long time I was just trying to enjoy every minute on the ice.”
Saturday’s come-from-behind victory was the second time Francouz was called on since returning from a preseason injury. The last time he played on home ice was before it was even called Ball Arena. Francouz started for the Avs on March 11, 2020 — a 4-3 overtime victory over the New York Rangers the night the sports world was forever changed.
It’s basically been a long time.
He missed the entire 2020-21 season operating on and rehabbing from a hip injury that started in the 2020 playoffs and stretched into the first week of the new season. He’d come a long way to earn his first victory in almost two years. And his 19 saves on 20 shots were crucial in a game where Colorado couldn’t afford to give up goals after Francouz was inserted.
“We were still a little shaky when he came in,” Avs defenseman Devon Toews said of Francouz. “He made some big plays for us and kind of gave us a little bit of time to get our feet going and find our work ethic.”
Francouz’s first game back from injury didn’t go quite as well as this one did.
On Dec. 16, the Avs were in Nashville to play a game where both teams were dealing with COVID outbreaks. It was the last game for 16 days that saw seven Colorado games postponed in the process.
Francouz, making his return as the backup to Kuemper, was asked to start an hour before puck drop because Kuemper tested positive for COVID. The Avalanche used an emergency backup goalie, meaning Francouz was likely not going to get pulled regardless of the outcome, and the Avs played with just 16 skaters.
They lost 5-2 with Francouz surrendering five goals on 35 shots.
Avs coach Jared Bednar said Saturday that Francouz was working hard in practice for Monday’s game against the Seattle Kraken. If Francouz is still expected to start against Seattle, which was implied by Bednar, he will likely go head-to-head with his former teammate and tandem partner Philipp Grubauer.
“I thought he really settled and he did a nice job,” Bednar said. “They had a couple strong pushes even in the third and but he was really good, especially coming in cold. He skated this morning and did some work for a five o’clock game trying to get ready for Seattle.”
Francouz hasn’t started and played a full 60-minute game at Ball Arena since he was covering for an injured Grubauer before COVID. If Monday’s game goes as planned, he’ll get a chance to not only embrace the moment against an old friend but enjoy the hockey every step of the way.
He’s most certainly earned it.
Aarif Deen is our Colorado Avalanche beat reporter. He covers Avs games live from Ball Arena and attends practices, media availabilities and other events pertaining to the Avs on the daily beat. He is also a co-host of Hockey Mountain High: Your go-to Avalanche Podcast. Deen joined Mile High Sports upon completion of his bachelor’s degree in journalism and master’s in business administration from the University of Michigan – Dearborn. Before Mile High Sports, Deen worked for the Michigan Wolverines Athletics Department as the assistant sports information director.
Follow him on Twitter @runwriteAarif