Thursday, September 9, 2010

Halak introduced to St. Louis

New Blues netminder ready to turn page, focus on
task at hand: getting his new team back to playoffs

ST. LOUIS -- After soaking in adulation from the frenzy of Montreal fans, Jaroslav Halak has finally traded in his Canadiens red and white for the blue and white of the Blues.

The Blues formally introduced Halak at a press conference Thursday morning at Scottrade Center that featured roughly 100 of Halak's new fans that bleed Blue.

The Blues opened with a Halak video tribute featuring highlights from last season's magical playoff run before concluding with Halak putting on his new sweater, the Blues' alternate jersey.

Halak, 25, became a fan fixture a season ago after guiding the underdog and eighth-seeded Canadiens to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they fell in five games to the Philadelphia Flyers.

But the summer did not go according to plan for Halak, who became a restricted free agent along with fellow netminder Carey Price.

The Canadiens were willing to only commit to one of them. Someone had to go and when Blues general manager Doug Armstrong came calling, a trade was eventually worked out and Halak became a Blue, shocking the Ontario community.

The Blues, who missed the playoffs one year after returning following a three-year hiatus, addressed a need when it became apparent that things were not going to work out with unrestricted free agent Chris Mason, who wound up signing a two-year deal with Atlanta.

"Back in June when our season ended and we were looking how to improve our team, we set out that we were looking for one more piece to our puzzle," said Armstrong, who dealt away prospects Lars Eller and Ian Schultz on June 17. "Someone that could grow with this team, someone that had the pedigree, not only of the flash in the pan success that we saw him have in the playoffs and the season too. But when you look at his resume, he's a winner. He knows how to win, he's played great goal for a number of years."

Halak, who helped knock Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby out of the same playoff season, has shifted his focus to his new challenge despite the fact he'll be adored in Montreal now and in the future. One of his new goalie masks feature three Blues great goalies: Jacques Plante, Mike Liut and Grant Fuhr.

"Do you think about it, yeah. It's a real nice memory, but that's in the past," said Halak, who signed a four-year, $15-million contract. "We've got to move forward and try to do something similar in the future. We'll see what the future brings. Our goal is to make the playoffs and you never know what's going to happen then. You look at Philadelphia and us (last season), we ended up in the conference finals that no one really expected.

"It was a great run in the playoffs, it was a great experience, but that's the past. Everybody needs to do something similar like that in the future. You can't live on what happened in the past."

Halak, who was 25-13-5 with a 2.40 goals-against average and .924 save percentage in the regular season a season ago, was 9-9 with a 2.55 GAA and .923 save percentage in the playoffs that saw the Canadiens eliminate the Capitals and Penguins each in a seven-game series before falling to the Flyers in five games. He also was the top netminder for Slovakia at the Vancouver Winter Olympics as well.

"This is a 25-year-old that understands when you go on the road trip, you fight and battle to where you want to get to," Blues President John Davidson said of Halak. "That's the type of character player that we want in our organization."

Halak, sporting a No. 41 alternate jersey, was flanked by Davidson, Armstrong and team owner Dave Checketts, who obviously was pleased with the events that led up to one of the biggest trades in team history.

"John and Doug called me to report that they were working on a blockbuster trade; those are the days I just dream about," Checketts said. "They don't come along very often in your life as an owner. When they do come along, you have to appreciate them."

Blues players Alex Steen, David Perron and Erik Johnson were also on hand to welcome in their new teammate and offered praise to the organization for bringing in someone that has all the earmarks of a franchise goalie.

"It's exciting. It's a big piece of the puzzle," said Steen, who signed a new four-year deal this offseason. "Obviously with what he did last year in the playoffs beating out Washington and Pittsburgh was a huge accomplishment. With support from us, hopefully we can get back in the playoff picture."

Johnson added, "You have to give to get and we gave some good players to get Jaro. But we have an established franchise goalie who's young and not even in the prime of his career yet. He has a track record of winning where he's been. He took an underdog team into the conference finals last year and I know we're really excited to have him.

"(Montreal's) problem was our reward. ... We definitely have a lot more Montreal fans that are going to watch us this year."

Perron, also with a new two-year contract in hand, said it was tough to think about a new goalie when the one the Blues were losing (Mason) was a special teammate. But having Halak on hand softens the blow immensely.

"At first, you don't think about the guy coming in. You think about the guy you're losing and you feel bad for that," Perron said. "... Mase was such a good guy, such a good goalie as well. You just wish him luck after that. ... He helped me a lot, but after that, you turn the page and you realize how good of a goalie we got as well. We're excited."

Halak, who helped raise $22,000 in a charity autograph signing for Ste. Justine Children's Hospital in Montreal Saturday that saw 5,000 fans packed into La Capsule Sportive, will bring a 56-34-7 mark in 101 career games to St. Louis. But it will be his first season as a clear-cut No. 1 netminder. Ty Conklin will serve as his backup.

"I'm looking forward to new fans, a new team and a new organization," Halak said. "It's going to be different for sure. But the sooner I get used to it, it's going to be better."

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