Exclusive interview: Pavel FrancouzEurolanche spoke with the Czech goalie prior to this season.
Pavel Francouz joined the Avalanche organization in the offseason as a free agent. In the organizational goalie depth chart, he’s penciled in as the team’s third-string goalie, meaning that he’ll mainly play for the Colorado Eagles, the Avs’ new AHL affiliate. Despite the odds, his career shows that the situation could change in an instant.
Pavel has played at five World Championships and at the most recent Olympics, while also appearing at various other international tournaments. Since 2012, his save-percentage at the club level hasn’t dropped below .92%. During the past three seasons, he was named the KHL’s goalie of the month once, the league’s goalie of the week twice, once also appearing in the KHL All-Star Game, while also having the highest save-percentage in the league two seasons in a row and being named the league’s best goalie the past season. He was also named among the three best players of the Czech Republic at the 2017 World Championship, traditionally voted by the team’s coaching staff. During his championship-winning 2014-15 season with HC Litvinov, he was hands-down the best goalie in the Czech Extraliga, having the highest save-percentage in both the regular season and the playoffs, the most shutouts and wins and the best GAA in the playoffs. Francouz was deservedly voted playoff MVP and the league’s best goalie for the second time in his career, as he was named goalie of the year for the 2012-13 season as well.
In the Czech Extraliga, Pavel suited up for Plzen, Trinec and Litvinov, making the switch to the KHL following the 2014-15 season, where he spent the past three seasons with Traktor Chelyabinsk.
You were named the KHL’s best goalie the past season, while also recording highest save-percentage during the regular season for the second year in row (.953 and .946). You were also the sole goalie and the only KHL player to appear in the top 10 of the Czech Golden Stick (Zlatá hokejka, awarded to the season’s best Czech hockey player), where you finished sixth. A successful season from an individual standpoint, but you failed to reach your ultimate goal – winning the Gagarin Cup. All in all, how satisfied were you with the past season?
From an individual standpoint, I was very pleased. But hockey’s a team sport and individual accolades aren’t as important. Obviously, I’m very glad that Traktor made it to the semifinals, it’s a great achievement, which I’d personally compare with Litvinov winning the Czech title. I’m still bummed out that my countrymen and I didn’t win a medal at the Olympics.
Was the past season the best of your career, or was it the 2014-15 season, in which you won the Czech championship?
That’s tough to judge. Winning the Extraliga with Litvinov was a big deal. A great sports moment and experience. On the other hand, it’s been a while, which is why it’s difficult to compare with anything else.
You got your chance to make it to the NHL as a 28-year-old. Did you even expect it at this point, or was the NHL already an afterthought? Were you surprised that you garnered interest among NHL teams?
I never set impossible goals for myself, instead opting for a step-by-step approach. While I was playing in the second-tier league in the Czech Republic, I was dreaming about making the leap to the Extraliga. After settling there, I dreamt about the KHL. And after that, well, I could only dream about the NHL, as there’s not much to dream about after that.
Prior to signing your contract with Colorado, there were rumors of interest from three NHL teams. Also, you were rumored to have been given offers to remain in the KHL. Why did you ultimately choose the Avalanche?
The contract negotiations with the Avalanche went really fast. The negotiations were of the no-nonsense kind, they didn’t try to sweettalk me into anything. They presented me their vision and I identified with it so much that I chose to sign. Moreover, I’ve already heard the best about the Avalanche organization.
How was Colorado’s management during your initial contact? Did you notice any differences between the attitude of the Avs’ brass and the management in Chelyabinsk towards you?
The American mentality in general is entirely different from that in Russia. The negotiations with people from the Avs were very pleasant. I was very impressed and flattered by the behavior of Joe Sakic, the team’s biggest legend. It was quite the experience to meet him in person. My communication with the coaching staff was also on the highest level possible.
At the most recent World Championship, you received a couple of tips and tricks about playing in the NHL from your teammate David Rittich. What did he tell you?
David and I talked about it a lot. He described his road to the NHL and every challenge he had to overcome. Meeting and speaking with him really helped me a lot. He’s one of the reasons I understand how hard it is to make it to the best league in the world.
Petr Franek, whom you’ve played with at the twilight of his career during two seasons in Litvinov, played in North America in 1998. Following the Nagano Olympics, Franek was called up to the Avalanche for one game but remained on the bench and never played in the NHL. Did you ever talk about his experience in North America [and Colorado]?
Yes. Petr told me a lot back when we were playing together in Litvinov. He’s one of the guys I remembered after I signed my contract. It’s kind of funny, because back when he told me about it, I never could’ve imagined that I’d also get here.
Aren’t you afraid that you could spend the entire season in the AHL? Would you consider going back to Europe, or would you be willing to give the NHL one more chance?
That’s tough to judge right now. It would likely depend on the situation and if I’d still feel that I’d have a chance. I’m willing to sacrifice a lot. Furthermore, there’s quality hockey in the AHL as well. It could help me to improve myself hockey-wise.
What’s your personal goal for the upcoming season?
My goal is to come as close to the NHL as possible.
You’ve been one of those saying that big goalies, more so in North America, have been given more chances to play. Could you being 6’0’’ (183 centimeters) be an obstacle for you to make it in the NHL, or isn’t your height much of a disadvantage?
Personally, I think that this trend hasn’t been as prevalent in recent years. Each goalie has to utilize everything he has, every advantage, which is why if you’re not extremely big, you have to compensate that with agility.
Have you ever been to Colorado or to Denver? What impressed you the most during your recent visit?
I’ve been to the US for the first time last year vacationing in New York and Florida. (…) Denver really impressed me. It’s a beautiful city full of friendly people. I really liked the calm feeling the city emitted.
You’ll be living with your wife in Colorado. How did she take the news that you’ll be moving so far away? Is there a chance you’ll invite Martin Kaut to dinner?
Karolína is really looking forward to the new experience. It’ll be something a little different. We’d really like to take care of Martin. I was in the father role in camp already, so we have a deal that we’ll continue during the season.
You’re known to be an enthusiastic pilot. Have you already managed to look at any runways in the vicinity, or will your unusual hobby have to wait until the offseason?
There’s a runway of the local airport near the Avs’ training center, which is why I kept looking at it since day one. My pilot career had to take a backseat during my time in Russia. I’d always spend about a month at home in the Czech Republic per year, during which I mostly caught up on things I didn’t have time to do. Sadly, flying wasn’t one of them. It’s likely that it’ll have to stay that way in the US as well.
Both Jan Hejda a Milan Hejduk live in Colorado. Did you manage to speak with them? Did they tell you anything about the city or the country?
I’ve contacted Milan Hejduk prior to the Avs’ development camp and, as luck would have it, he was in the Czech Republic at the time. We agreed that we’d get in touch and maybe even meet when we go back to Denver prior to the season. Honza Hejda came to see us in Loveland, where we played an exhibition game. It was great to meet him. He gave us his contact details, so we could ask him anything anytime.
How does it look like when a European moves to the US?
I don’t make a big deal out of moving elsewhere, I’m used to a nomadic life. And one can get literally anything in the US.
The Avs’ official goalie tandem consists of Semyon Varlamov and Philipp Gruaber. Do you know any of them personally? If so, when was the last time you met? What kind of goalies are they?
I don’t know any of them personally. Obviously, I watched both in the NHL for quite some time now. Both of them are established goalies and I have a lot of respect for what they’ve achieved in the league.
What’s your advice for young goalies that weren’t drafted and could be disappointed? Is it still worth to fight even if they aren’t 20 anymore?
“Never give up!” That’s what I’d say not only to young goalies, but to any person in general.
The interview was conducted prior to the season.
Photos: sport.cz, tyden.cz, coloradoavalanche.com
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22/10/2018 - 21:00