NEWARK, N.J. – After a recent morning skate at Newark’s Prudential Center, New Jersey Devils forward Dainius Zubrus calmly sat at his locker, marveling at a seemingly ageless goaltender who sat just a few stalls away.
With the future Hall of Famer always getting the bulk of the attention — and certainly deservingly so — the accomplishments of 39-year-old backup Johan Hedberg have seemingly gone under the radar yet again to most in the mainstream media. Now in his third season with the Devils, his goals-against average dipped from an already tidy 2.38 in 2010-11 to an even better 2.22 mark last season.
But, having already made three starts this year, the man they call "Moose" might need a microscope to find the number this year: he’s allowed just two goals through his first 185 minutes of play, good for a 0.65 goals-against average. Zubrus was quick to point out that having a quality, veteran backup like Hedberg is a luxury that many teams simply don’t have.
"It’s a very tough position to be in, where you don’t play that many games; Marty likes to play his games and kind of feel the flow and everything," Zubrus told ECHL.com. "But every time he comes in, he’s given us a chance. He’s been great. Last year, it was the same thing, but this year he already had that shutout against the Islanders and he made some huge, huge saves to keep us in the game. He’s been awesome, he’s been as good of a backup as I’ve ever seen."
And that’s no fluke. When the 2004-05 lockout ended up costing the National Hockey League an entire season, Hedberg ended up playing with Leksands in his native Sweden to stay sharp. But with the constant uncertainty of labor negotiations this year, he instead stayed home with his family, where the onus to stay in shape was squarely on his shoulders.
"There were days that were tougher than others," said Hedberg of staying motivated to stay in game shape.
"You’d be training, and then you’d hear things were positive, and you’d get a little more jump in your legs and be skating harder. I think for the most part, we kept our spirits pretty high and just tried to stay ready. We knew if it was going to happen, it was going to happen quick."|
Despite having plenty of mileage under his skates — this marks his 20th professional season and 16th in North America, including two games with the ECHL’s Baton Rouge Kingfish — Hedberg insists that his age didn’t make preparing any more difficult. The numbers would certainly back that up.
"I think we were pretty smart with the way we practice, we try to stay on top of a lot of things," he said. "When camp started, everyone was so excited to be back and it was ‘team mode’ again, so you get that mental edge back. Right now, it feels like there was no lockout. You forgot pretty quickly."
Although no one will question Hedberg’s talent, Zubrus raved about Hedberg’s work ethic, describing him as "one of the hardest working guys on the team."
"Being a backup goalie, it doesn’t really matter to him," Zubrus said.
"He just works as hard as he can, and after a practice, you’ll see him being the last guy leaving the ice because he wants to give the young guys a chance to shoot the pucks at him. But that’s how he keeps himself at that peak and it looks like he hasn’t missed a beat. He’s been awesome. I think he’s probably the most likeable guy in our locker room."