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  1. Lightning

Andrei Vasilevskiy's work ethic sets him apart

Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy checks to see that he stopped the puck after fielding a shot off the stick of an Avalanche player in the first period of Sunday’s defeat in Denver. The rookie allowed a season-high five goals on 18 shots as Colorado won 5-4.
Published Feb. 24, 2015

TAMPA — Nobody was blaming rookie goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy for Sunday's 5-4 loss to the Avalanche.

The Lightning felt it hung Vasilevskiy out to dry with bad giveaways, which led to grade-A chances. But Vasilevskiy, 20, was hard on himself, not making any excuses for allowing a season-high five goals on 18 shots.

"It was good shots," he said. "But if I want to play in the NHL, I need to make the save."

As talented as Vasilevskiy is, there inevitably will be growing pains. As coach Jon Cooper said, "You're not going to have a .950 save percentage every game you play in."

But Vasilevskiy's commitment and mental toughness — not to mention a work ethic coaches and teammates say is rare for a raw 20-year-old — gives the Lightning every indication he can bounce back and learn from this process.

"He has the right makeup," veteran wing Brenden Morrow said. "No one works harder. This is just a bump in the road."

There are many reasons the Lightning believes Vasilevskiy can be a future No. 1. There's his blend of size — 6 feet 3, 210 pounds — and athleticism. There's his ability to track the puck, and his poise beyond his years.

But what often goes unseen behind closed doors is Vasilevskiy's tremendous mental and physical preparation. Goalie coach Frantz Jean said it's uncommon for someone of his age and experience, believing it's on par with former Lightning captain Marty St. Louis, whose workouts were legendary.

"It's like he's been a pro for 10 years," Jean said of Vasilevskiy. "It's extremely impressive."

Vasilevskiy, a 2011 first-round pick in his first pro season in North America, is 4-3-1 with a 2.46 goals-against average in 10 NHL games. Jean said Vasilevskiy is the first to the rink, and often the last to leave.

It's not just that Vasilevskiy works hard, it's how disciplined and consistent he is with his routine. Jean said a lot of players pride themselves on pregame work, but Vasilevskiy never misses a day, never skips a rep in a drill.

"He's so methodical," Jean said. "It's like clockwork."

And you can bet Vasilevskiy will arrive early today at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon as Tampa Bay resumes practice.

The first thing he mentioned after Sunday's loss was getting back to work. He can draw from experience. Vasilevskiy gave up five goals three times for AHL Syracuse this season. The first two times, in his next start he allowed just one goal in a win. The third he gave up two in a hard-luck, 2-1 loss.

"I hope I'm going to do the same thing," Vasilevskiy said. "After a tough loss, you can think about your game, about your practice, what you do before the game, or why you give up five goals. That's what I'm going to do right now. I'm going to be better. That's it."

Vasilevskiy said his routine is a compilation of things picked up from different coaches throughout his career. He starts by doing 15 minutes of stretching before and after practice. Vasilevskiy also works on his explosiveness and hand-eye coordination, spending several minutes whipping or hitting a small rubber ball against the wall and catching it.

Every shot he faces during morning skates or practices is treated like it's a game. He keeps a sharp mental focus on game days, one reason he doesn't speak to media in the morning on days he starts.

"I had Roberto Luongo for seven years in Vancouver and I said, 'Boy does this guy work hard,' and Vasy works hard,'' associate coach Rick Bowness said.

"This guy is 20 years old, and he wants to win, he wants to do really well. He's the first guy there, he's the last guy to leave and the hardest guy working on the ice. It's nice to see that a 20-year-old kid can come up here with that much work ethic, with that much determination and that much will, so it's good to see.'

"He wants it. It tells me he wants it and I love that."

NOTABLE: The team signed goalie Allen York to a two-way deal for the rest of the season. York, 25, previously on an AHL contract, has been the backup to Kristers Gudlevskis with AHL Syracuse since Vasilevskiy got recalled by the Lightning. York has played 43 career AHL games. In other news, prospect center Vladislav Namestnikov was named AHL player of the week, having scored three goals with three assists last week.

Contact Joe Smith at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

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