October 26 2005
Free Press Files
PHOENIX – The National Hockey League’s Phoenix Coyotes are making more headlines off the ice than they are on it this season.
First, Wayne Gretzky announced he would take the reins as head coach, then newly-acquired superstar Brett Hull shocked the hockey world by announcing his retirement just five games into the season.
Between front-page stories involving two of hockey’s all-time greats, a lesser known and much younger Coyote emerged from the shadows to steal the spotlight for a few days. But unlike headlines that fade with time, 22-year-old Fernie native and former Ghostrider David LeNeveu’s first impression is perpetual.
The young netminder’s impressive play with the American Hockey League’s Utah Grizzlies last year, coupled with a pre-season injury to Phoenix goaltender Brian Boucher, earned him a spot on the Coyotes’ roster. When teammate and veteran goalie Curtis Joseph suffered a groin injury two weeks ago, LeNeveu was summoned to make his NHL debut Oct. 6 against the Los Angeles Kings.
Even after a 3-2 loss to the Kings and subsequent games versus the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators which yielded no wins, the rookie’s performance garnered respect form his teammates and coach.
“He’s played great for us,” Hull told the American Press after LeNeveu’s 23-save performance against the Stars. “I don’t think anybody thought he would be up here at this point. But with Bouch getting hurt, he’s held us in games. I think he’s been fantastic.”
He came close to earning his first NHL win when the Coyotes forced overtime and a shootout against the undefeated Predators on Oct. 13 in Phoenix.
After a scoreless overtime, LeNeveu was front and center when he stopped two of three breakaways in his first NHL shootout. Nashville’s third shooter Paul Kariya managed the lone goal for his team while the Coyotes were stopped on each attempt by Predator goalie Chris Mason.
“I put myself in the position I wanted to after that game,” LeNeveu told The Free Press after a Coyotes practice last Friday. “I was glad to go into the shootout because I could say, “Hey, I have a lot of control over the outcome of this game.” I was very confident going in.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t put any goals in the net and Paul Kariya, he was the man I wanted, the last shooter. I really wanted to stop him so we could enable ourselves to get the win. He made a great shot though – that’s just what happens.”
In the grander scheme of things, LeNeveu shook the initial jitters that usually come with a major league debut and now has a few games under his belt.
“It definitely feels pretty good,” he said. “I thought I played well the first couple of games and gave our team an opportunity to win.”
If starting in three consecutive games wasn’t enough, LeNeveu has Gretzky and Hull praising his play.
“It feels great hearing players of that caliber saying good things about you,” he said. “It only reinforces the confidence that you need to play at this level.”
Joseph returned to the ice Saturday to face his former team, the Detroit Red Wings, but the Coyotes were unable to claim their second win of the season.
Still, playing in the NHL under Gretzky’s direction and working with an all-star veteran like Joseph, LeNeveu is in a better position than most rookie goaltenders because of the experience and knowledge being shared with him.
“He’s been a great coach so far, “ he said of Gretzky. And his thoughts on working with Joseph? “He brings a winning attitude to every game he comes to”.
“Just watching him, sitting beside him and talking hockey with him – it’s a great thing to have as a young goaltender coming in to the league.”
Competition is fierce though and LeNeveu is prepared to battle his mentor for top spot in the Coyotes’ goal.
“I know when he’s fully healthy he’s going to be great and if I want to get any starts then I’m going to have to be great as well,” he explained. “At the same time when I am getting a start and I’m doing well I know he sees a young guy right behind him who’s pushing for his spot. We’re both making each other better.”
When Boucher returns to the Coyotes lineup LeNeveu will likely be sent back to Salt lake City to re-join the Grizzlies, but he knows it’s what he does in the meantime that will likely determine his future role with the Coyotes organization.
“Now that I’ve got my initial few games out of the way it’s time to start picking other stuff up, playing at another level and start bringing those wins in.”
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