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  Jocelyn Thibault: The Man Who Never Gives Up
by Jacques Robert, Montreal Correspondent

Things can evolve so rapidly in the wonderful world of hockey. One year a player is not even good enough to secure the starting job away from a rookie farmhand. The next season, he is so idolized that the superb overall performances of his team are attributed to him, the very same guy who was hated not so long ago. We are talking about Jocelyn Thibault, of course, the number-one goalie of the Montreal Canadiens who is greatly responsible for the Habs' strong start this season.

Jocelyn has come such a long way since Christmas '97. Remember: last year, before Christmas, reporters were prompt to write that this Montreal native was no longer able to take the pressure. That when his teammates need him to make the big save to stay in a game, he chokes. Now it is those same reporters who are choking on their words.

As a matter of fact, in the current season, few things have changed in Thibault's playing style. The big modification appears to in his approach to the mental game. This 23-year-old goalie has gained confidence along the way and now hangs in there at the most critical points of his young career. He no longer seems to get rattled. Yes, experience is a wonderful thing.

Felix Potvin Came Close To Replacing Thibault

Flashback on the last playoffs. Thibault gave way to Jose Theodore, a 20-year-old rookie fresh from Juniors. In the Canadiens' entourage, barely anyone was expecting that Thibault would be back in the lineup for the '97-'98 season. Toronto's Felix Potvin was even rumored to join the team.

Yet luckily, nothing happened! Except that in the meantime coach Mario Tremblay had no choice but to resign and was later replaced by Alain Vigneault and his boys: Clement Jodoin, Dave King and Roland "Rollie the Goalie" Melanson. Vigneault was downright: confidence is key to success. And Melanson made a big difference in Thibault's metamorphosis.

Good Communication Makes The Difference

"Rollie the Goalie" was very instrumental in helping Thibault become more confident. If Thibault was not particularly supervised by the former coaching staff, this year Melanson, along with Andy Moog, the veteran netminder who brought in his experience of three Stanley Cups, took charge of Jocelyn's game. Results: drawbacks were fixed and now he keeps his torso upright, he is no longer terrible with his rebounds, which he now properly directs to his teammates, and, above all, Jocelyn has simplified his techniques by not making the easy saves more difficult than they truly are.

"It all comes down to confidence! I'm not a better goalie... I know that my performances are also due to my teammates' efforts. They know that they can trust me, and I know that my defensemen are committed to playing defense," says Thibault.

Guys like Patrice Brisebois and Vladimir Malakhov are playing good hockey these days and it's little wonder that this new attitude being demonstrated by the defense, as well as by the entire team, reflects on Thibault's performances.

Thibault Can Take The Pressure This Year

In addition, there's not much competition between Thibault and Moog. Moog knows that he is in Montreal to help out. He has nothing to prove along the St. Lawrence River. He only has to make sure that Thibault gains enough confidence to become the goalie who can lead the team to a Stanley Cup.

Last year, the constant stress as to whether or not Thibault was number one or number two in the net didn't help create a good atmosphere in the dressing room. Moog's presence clearly defines the situation.

As the Montreal Canadiens (2nd in the Northeast division) are tackling the second quarter of the season, Thibault is posting a 11-7-4 record with a 2.36 goals-against average, placing him among the top NHL goalies. Moog is also doing more than baby- sitting, posting an 13-9-2 record and a 2.31 goals-against.

What makes Jocelyn Thibault a special guy is that he never lets the pressure get to him. Win or lose, he is a soft-spoken young man and always critical of his own game. The other day, as he had just shut out the LA Kings, he declared, "I didn't surrender any goals, but it may have been (...) next practice, I should focus on clearing the puck faster in front of me."

Montreal: Where Jocelyn Wants to Play

Jocelyn Thibault is a very hard worker. There is no doubt that he wants to make the fans forget about Patrick Roy. The fans have been hard on Jocelyn, even bombarding him with quarters early this season when the Habs were playing a bad game. No matter what... Thibault is not bitter.

"Being a French Canadian player in Montreal is everything but easy... In Montreal you are only as good as your previous game. I have to get used to it. Montreal is the place I call home. And I want to play here. That's the price to pay."

The shoulder injury he recently received against the Bruins (Jan. 7) will in no way affect Thibault's confidence. As a matter of fact, no physical injuries will be matching the pain he felt last year as he was the Habs' scapegoat under Tremblay's reign.

Undoubtedly, Jocelyn Thibault is a happy man. As he stated recently to a Montreal reporter, "I'm not going to the Olympics. I'm not even going to the All-Star Game, but the way I feel right now, I can become the goaltender I always wanted to be."

That says it all.

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