July 23, 2011

Going pro, the Black Bear way

Jimmy Howard has made it professionally as Detroit's No. 1 goaltender, but he's not too big a star for Maine, or giving back.

By Rachel Lenzi rlenzi@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

SACO - More than six years ago, Jimmy Howard departed the University of Maine in pursuit of a career in professional hockey.

click image to enlarge

Jimmy Howard scrambles for the puck recently during a charity game held to raise money for brain injury and seizure research. It was Howard's first time on skates since his NHL season ended.

Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

In addition to lending his name to a charity event, Jimmy Howard also has donated money to renovations at the University of Maine’s Alfond Arena, a move that inspired other former UMaine players to contribute as well.

Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

37

Jimmy Howard’s wins last year, third best in the NHL

2.79

Howard’s goals-against average (with a .908 save percentage) for the Red Wings last season

$4.5 million

What Howards’s two-year contract extension (signed in February) is worth

Before he left, Howard set a school record with 15 career shutouts, set national single-season goaltending records in goals-against average (1.18) and saves percentage (.956), and he helped the Black Bears to the verge of winning the 2004 national title.

Then, in 2005, Howard left Orono after his junior year to join the Detroit Red Wings organization and embarked on a path to the NHL that took more than four years with Grand Rapids of the AHL.

Now, Jim Nill fully believes Howard has paid his dues. The Red Wings' assistant general manager describes Howard's ascension to the NHL not as a fast-paced footrace, but as a measured journey. Howard persevered, emerging as one of the league's top young goalies.

"It comes down to the fact that you're challenging yourself," Nill said. "You go to the minors, and this after you leave college, when you're one of the top college players in the nation. You find out it’s a long, slow grind to get to one of the best leagues in the world.”

Last weekend, Howard, 27, returned to Maine to participate in the Michael T. Goulet Traumatic Brain Injury and Epilepsy Foundation’s charity game that included current and former professional, college and high school players. Howard was the marquee name at the event, but admitted it was the first time he’d put on skates and pads since May, when the San Jose Sharks eliminated the Red Wings from the Western Conference semifinals in seven games.

Since then, he’s returned to Maine, where he spends the offseason living in Dedham and training in Orono.

“It’s going good. I’m working out, and it’s a good fit,” Howard said. “I like to come back here, where life is pretty simple, because the season is so hectic.”

An NHL team’s training camp begins in September and the season, for some teams, can go into May and June, in some cases extending to 100 regular-season and playoff games. The Red Wings played 93 games this season, and after the Sharks eliminated them from the playoffs, Howard went nowhere near the ice. In fact, he took two weeks off in which he did nothing athletic. He went on vacation to Florida with his wife, Rachel, who grew up in Hampden. He relaxed at his home in Dedham, about 15 miles southeast of Bangor.

“To be able to get back here, kick back and relax, it’s nice,” said Howard, who added he won’t start skating again until August. “It’s nice just to be able to get a break and to mentally refresh.”

Howard works out five days a week at the University of Maine with Terry O’Neill, the Black Bears’ strength and conditioning coach. He not only has used the facilities at the Shawn Walsh Hockey Center, he’s also contributed to them. Maine Coach Tim Whitehead said Howard recently made a significant donation to assist with renovations of Alfond Arena, a move that Whitehead said spurred other former Black Bears, including St. Louis goalie Ben Bishop and Minnesota defenseman Mike Lundin, to contribute.

“For someone to make that kind of donation, it’s an indication of how much he appreciates the opportunity he got at Maine,” said Whitehead, who did not disclose the amount of Howard’s donation.

(Continued on page 2)

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