Chet Pickard’s career had a promising start.
After a 46-win season with the Tri-City Americans in the 2007-08 season, Pickard was drafted in the first round, eighteenth overall, by the Nashville Predators. He was the highest goaltender taken in the 2008 draft and was poised to be Nashville’s “goalie of the future”.
The Moncton, New Brunswick native had racked up a serious list of accomplishments during his short time as a starting goaltender in junior, including being named the CHL’s Goaltender of the Year prior to being drafted by Nashville. The following season, he continued his success with the Americans, winning the 2009 Del Wilson Trophy as the WHL’s top goaltender, as well as picking up a gold medal as a backup goaltender on Canada’s World Junior team.
His success continued into the beginning of the 2009-10 season when he shared goaltending duties in Milwaukee with Mark Dekanich, even briefly supplanting Dekanich as the Ads’ top goalie.
Soon, however, the wheels came off the bus. Pickard lost…and he lost…and he lost. When the streak had finally ended, Pickard had lost 10 games in a row between the end of the 2009-10 season and the beginning of the 2010-11 season. In addition, he found that he had plummeted in the organization’s depth chart. After starting the 2010-11 season with a shot at becoming the Predators’ backup goaltender, Pickard found himself struggling to get starts with the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones by the end of October.
The streak finally ended, but it created a long, uncomfortable, nightmare season for Pickard. After an injury to Dekanich, Pickard found his way back to Milwaukee. The Predators then added Pickard to their “black aces” for the playoffs, allowing him to gain time and experience with NHL players.
Now, a new season begins.
“It’s a fresh start to a new year and I’m looking forward to it,” says Pickard. “I’ve put in a lot of work this summer on and off the ice and in my head and I’m looking forward to it. I feel like I’ve done everything I possibly could to give myself the best chance this year, so I’m excited to get things started.”
With his rough patch behind him, Pickard has finally had time to slow down, reflect and regain his composure.
“The pressure’s what you put on yourself so I feel like I’ve prepared myself as much as I could for this camp and I’m gonna go out there and leave it all out there. It’s gonna be fun. I’ve been to this camp a few times now and I’m excited to see if the results pay off.”
He has also adjusted his off-season training regimen and added a relatively new age twist to his workouts.
“I focused more on stuff that’s gonna help me as a goalie and not so much a straight up athlete. I did a lot of flexibility, yoga, a lot of mental training, hand-eye, a lot of stuff that’s going to make me quicker on the ice.”
Yoga, while common among some athletes such as runners, has yet to take off on a large scale in the hockey world.
“Don’t judge me. It’s obviously very good for your flexibility and for your breathing and very good for your core and those are three pretty important parts of being a goalie: flexibility, core and breathing. It’s actually very good. It sounds a little weird, but more and more guys are doing it, especially goalies, so it’s a very good exercise.
“Actually, I go with my mom twice a week, it’d be about 8 o’clock at night
Tuesdays and Thursdays and it’s hot yoga, so it’s disgusting how hard you’re sweating in there. I was usually one of the only guys, but it’s worked. I feel flexible. I feel healthy. It’s a good workout, you should try it.”
While his struggles were pretty well documented, Pickard has managed to regain his confidence and improve his game.
“I’ve got a lot of strengths. My work ethic is very good. This year there are a lot of things that weren’t strengths before that have come along including flexibility and hand-eye and quickness, so hopefully I’m a better goalie and every day I come off the ice better, but like I said, right now when I come off the ice I feel pretty good.”
“Obviously I want to have a good camp here and take it one day at a time and learn every day and get better every day and we’ll see what happens. I want to have a good start to the year wherever I am and play well and go from there.”
Pickard will have a long way to climb in an organization that is stacked with goaltenders. Simply to make it to the NHL as a backup, Pickard will somehow have to move ahead of Anders Lindback, Jeremy Smith and Atte Engren while hoping that Magnus Hellberg manages to stay in Sweden for another year or so.
Perhaps that climb to the top begins with Tuesday-Thursday hot yoga with his mother.