Sabourin Seeks One More NHL ShotPosted on October 24, 2012
Hershey Bears goaltender Dany Sabourin first reached the NHL at the age of 23 in 2003-04 with the Calgary Flames. Calgary drafted the Val-D’or, Quebec native with its fourth-round (102nd overall) pick in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft. Sabourin got another brief taste of the NHL with Pittsburgh in 2005-06, getting into one game. It wasn’t until he was a 26-year-old with the Vancouver Canucks in 2006-07 that he earned his first NHL win, a 3-2 victory over the Ducks in Anaheim on Feb. 20, 2007. The 32-year-old Sabourin is now in his third season in the Capitals’ organization, and he is nearly four years removed from his last NHL victory. He helped the Penguins to a 5-2 win at Carolina on Dec. 4, 2008. That was his last win before a six-game personal losing streak. Just over a month after that victory vs. the Hurricanes, Sabourin was swapped to Edmonton. He’s toiled in the Boston and Washington systems since, hoping for another shot at the show. Caps goaltending coach Dave Prior has full faith in Sabourin’s ability to play at the NHL level. “We did some re-engineering of Dany’s game last year,” Prior told me last April. “I think he is a better goaltender now than he has ever been in his career. I think Dany would tell you he is more confident than he has ever been in his career to play in the NHL.” Sabourin does have more confidence in his game now that he did back in 2008-09, and he credits Prior – and associate goaltending coach Olie Kolzig – for instilling that confidence. “I can say a lot about Dave,” says Sabourin. “He certainly turned my game around and probably turned my career around. I am going in the right direction. I’ve improved a lot. And I definitely agree with him; I can definitely say that I am a better goalie now than when I came to the organization the first year, that’s for sure. “A big reason is that the organization believed in me, and Dave and Olie – the last two years – working with me. Those two guys, it’s nice to be able to talk about them. I’ve told them, too, but it’s nice to say a big thank you to those two guys.” After the Jan. 2009 trade to Edmonton, Sabourin was a healthy scratch for two games with the Oilers before being farmed out to AHL Springfield. He spent the following season in the Boston organization, winning 28 games for AHL Providence and getting two recalls to Boston without getting into a game. Since signing with Washington before the 2010-11 season, Sabourin has had seven separate recalls to the Capitals, but all of his uniformed duty in the District has been as a back-up; he has yet to appear in any game action. Is it frustrating to believe that your game has improved, but to not have the opportunity to display that improvement at the highest level? “A little bit,” admits Sabourin. “It feels nice to improve and feel a little bit better about your game, and I can’t wait to have a game back in the NHL. I think a lot of guys deserve it and I’m one of them. And I’m ready for the challenge, even more than I was three years ago.” Sabourin struggled a bit after initially joining the Bears in 2010-11. He was 8-9 in his first 17 games, posting a 2.68 GAA and an .898 save pct. in the process. It was at that point of the season that the work with Prior began paying dividends. Starting with his first start of calendar 2011, Sabourin reeled off six straight wins. He posted a shutout, a 1.83 GAA and a .933 save pct. during that span. But he also suffered the first major injury of his pro career. “That first year, I came here and my game was not quite there,” recalls Sabourin. “But I worked with Dave that year and I worked hard, and I improved a lot. I was finally getting rewarded in games and I had a little streak going, but I got hurt. We had to stop the process of improving. It was a little disappointing to have that injury. That was my first injury in 12 years – I had never missed a game or a practice – and it was a big one, too. The team stuck with me and I’m glad they did. I worked hard to come back.” Sabourin endured a couple of rough patches during the 2011-12 campaign, but he was at his best when it mattered most, down the stretch. He went 8-1-1 with two shutouts, a 1.94 GAA and a .935 save pct. in the month of March. When Caps goaltender Michal Neuvirth went down with an injury in early April, the Caps again turned to Sabourin. “Dany Sabourin blew me away,” said Prior last summer. “At his age, I told him I didn’t think he had a chance to play in the NHL the way he played. And he said to me, ‘Tell me what I need to change and I’ll change it.’ It’s a coach’s dream. And he did. He was willing, and he wanted more direction and more direction. We still don’t know [how he’d play in the NHL] but he is a lot better goalie because he has made a lot of changes in his game, and because he has a lot more confidence in his game and believes he can do it.” What was it that Prior spotted at changed in Sabourin’s game that made such a difference? “It’s a secret,” laughs Sabourin. But really, he’s not much more forthcoming than that. “A little detail in practice and in games that I wasn’t quite doing right,” Sabourin explains. “It’s not because I wasn’t working hard enough, it was just how I was doing it. It’s technical stuff to improve and to keep improving. It’s really nice to work with those two guys. “I’m more patient. I’m much more on my feet than on my knees than I used to be.” That’s as much detail as you’ll get on the transformation of Dany Sabourin. Sabourin started the 2012-13 season strong, stopping 42 of the 44 shots he faced last Friday in leading Hershey to its lone win of the season to date. A night later, he was reached for eight goals on 30 shots in an 8-7 loss to Rochester, but four of those tallies against him came on the power play. Expect Sabourin to carry a good bit of the netminding workload in Hershey this season, especially if the NHL lockout ends soon. He has played 256 games for seven different clubs at the AHL level, and he brings a wealth of experience to the table. “When you get older, the experience makes you better,” says Sabourin. “But at the same time you have to keep your body in shape. You have to train hard off the ice and eat well. That makes a big difference in the long run if you want to have a long career.” Sabourin can already lay claim to a long career; he is now in his 13th pro season. He has played in 57 regular season games in the NHL, and he spent an entire season (2007-08) in the league, backing up Marc-Andre Fleury for the Stanley Cup finalist Pittsburgh Penguins. These days Sabourin is hoping that long career holds at least one more start in the NHL, just so he can validate – for himself and for Prior – the improvements he’s made over the last two-plus seasons in Hershey.