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Billington all business in net (10/12/95)

Billington all business in net
Nancy L. Marrapese, Globe Staff

DENVER -- If you want to know whether goalie Craig Billington is slated to start a game, all you have to do is look at his face.

On non-game days or on nights when Blaine Lacher is manning the Bruins' net, Billington is quick with a joke and a smile. Often he can be downright goofy, giving his teammates, coaches and even the media a good-natured hard time.

However, when Billington is given the starting nod, his teeth clench, the smile disappears and he becomes silent, almost sullen.

For the 29-year-old goalie, who lost to the Colorado Avalanche, 3-1, last night in his first start of the season, it is a routine that works.

"My mood is different, absolutely," said Billington. "That's the biggest thing. I don't talk. It's not that I'm being a snob, it's just that I don't have much to say. I'm focusing on what I have to do. I've been like that for a long time. It's not great for communication, but at the same time, I just want my space to do my thing. It's fairly apparent when I'm playing and when I'm not."

Billington came to the Bruins April 7 for a draft choice, and in the short time he's been around, he has forged a dependable tandem with Lacher.

Last season in eight regular-season games, he was 5-1-0 with a 3.06 goals-against average.

This year, while it's widely acknowledged that Lacher is the No. 1 goaltender, Billington prepares for every game as if he's the one who will be playing.

"Basically, the goal is to get ready for every game," he said. "I prepare to play every one, and that way, I know I'll be ready when [coach Steve Kasper] tells me."

Billington has long been a classic rink rat, always among the first to arrive and the last to leave. He talks in old-fashioned terms about "the love of the game" and "getting paid to play like a kid."

However, when there's business at hand such as a start looming, Billington suddenly gets very jiggy.

"This is my 11th season and I still get nervous before every game," he said. "There's good nervous and bad nervous. I don't know if people would understand the difference unless you're in the performance industry. I think it's good to have a certain amount of nerves. It brings your focus to a very fine point. If you don't have it, I think you're going to be sluggish. I've always been nervous. You hate it, but it's part of the profession. Once the game starts, you get into it and it's the greatest thing. You've got to make nerves work for you, not against you."

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