VOJENS, Denmark – Alfie Michaud, the Canadian goalkeeper of Danish champion SønderjyskE, set a remarkable record playing hockey for over six hours without goals against. His secret: Stay humble and focused and learn every day.
It was a young player of the Frederikshavn White Hawks, Martin Højbjerg, who ended one of the most impressive goalkeeping streaks seen in the hockey world for some years.
After 360 minutes and 58 seconds without a goal against him, Michaud eventually had to capitulate when he couldn’t hold on to Højbjerg’s shot from the left side of the ice.
Still SønderjyskE won the game 4-1, and in the dressing room after the game, Michaud could conclude that he had beaten the old record in the Danish AL-Bank Liga by 118 minutes. Back in 2008-09, Rødovre’s Trevor Koenig kept his net clean for 242 minutes.
The Canadian goalie has been one of the main reasons for SønderjyskE’s success since last yeason. After the team from Vojens won a hard fought championship series in the spring of 2008 against the Herning Blue Fox, their Danish national team goalie Patrick Galbraith chose to move to Björklöven Umeå, a team in the Swedish second-tier league Allsvenskan.
In summer 2009, Michaud landed in the small, traditional hockey town after a three-year spell with German second-tier team Bremerhaven.
“I had a great time in Bremerhaven, but my wish was to come to a team with a chance of winning a championship. I did some research on Vojens and SønderjyskE, and I found out that there was an obvious chance to have success,” Michaud says about his move 250 kilometres northwards.
Although the 7,000-soul town in the South Jutland County isn’t exactly a lively metropolis, Michaud didn’t regret his move.
“The fact that Vojens is a small town meant nothing to me. I’m a family man and we are simple people, who only need a grocery store nearby and the possibility to buy some food and clothes. That really is all we need. Back home in Maine where we spend the off season, only 500 people live in the town,” Michaud explains.
Michaud wasn’t that successful immediately when he arrived in Vojens. In his first game for SønderjyskE back in September 2009, he didn’t play more than half a period before coach Mario Simioni benched him in front of the fanatic home crowd in the Canadian-sized rink in Vojens.
“I used to get a lot of shots against me in Bremerhaven, but suddenly I needed to get used to less amount of activity in front of my goal. It took some time to learn, but now I’ve taught myself not to get too much wrapped up in the things that happen ahead of me,” Michaud says. “I just need to have a clean mind, stay focused and be ready for the next shot. And I know I have some very solid defencemen in front of me, guys who I can trust.”
Michaud also remembers that it was a challenge for him in the beginning when he was the only new import in the dressing room while the others already knew each other very well. But since the Canadian goalie found his rhythm. He and SønderjyskE dominated the AL-Bank Liga. After losing the first quarterfinal game against underdogs Rungsted Cobras, SønderjyskE won 12 playoff games in a row and secured another championship.
During the campaign for the 2010 championship, Michaud played 235 minutes without goals against. This season he finally got hold of Trevor Koenig’s record.
SønderjyskE still dominates the AL-Bank Liga and seems to be on track for another regular season victory. Alfie Michaud played nine of 14 games and he already registered an incredible number of seven shutouts.
“He really is a true professional,” states SønderjyskE’s coach Mario Simioni.
“Alfie often comes to my office just to study DVDs of the opponents and how they shoot and work in front of his goal. In the period breaks he has this little stopwatch to keep track of time and his routines.”
“Goalkeepers are said to be the eccentric guys in a hockey team. I guess I’m one of those who fit into the cliché,” Michaud says.
“I don’t talk a lot on game days, and I’m not one of those guys who can have fun all day and then turn on a switch and focus on the game. I wish I could, and I have tried it. But it is not possible for me.
“Typically, when we play the same night, I say ‘hi’ and ‘good morning’ to my family and thereafter I’m pretty quiet. I try to prepare for the night’s opponent and get a lot of sleep. Luckily, it is only game day twice a week”, the goalie says and smiles.
“You’ll never get old enough to learn. I try to stay focused every day and be humble. I love playing hockey and I love my job. Knock on wood, my body still feels fantastic and hopefully I will be able to continue to play for a long time,” Michaud says.
The 33-year-old was born in Selkirk, Manitoba, and he’s an Aboriginal Canadian from the Ojibwe people. He wears symbols on his helmet to honour his people and its traditions.
“That is something I’m very proud of. Unfortunately not a lot of Native American kids are able to watch me play here in Europe, but someday I hope I can inspire some of them to grow up and become hockey players,” he says.
In the 2009-2010 season, Michaud won the two major tournaments in Denmark, the Danish Championship and the AL-Bank Cup with SønderjyskE. This year SønderjyskE is clear favorite to defend both titles and in the last weekend of November it is the club’s goal to add international success.
SønderjyskE is one of four teams playing in the Continental Cup’s third-round group in Asiago, Italy, and the Danes hopes to win the tournament and advance to the Super Final in Minsk in January. The opponents are Asiago, Sokil Kyiv from Ukraine and Romanian champion SC Miercurea Ciuc.
To overcome that challenge SønderjyskE might need some more of Michaud’s magic...