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Billington calm in eye of storm: Boston Herald (1/14/96)



Sunday, January 14, 1996

Calm in the eye of the storm
Karen Guregian


Craig Billington was merely keeping the crease warm. He played in goal yesterday knowing it would probably be his last as a starter.

He played knowing Bill Ranford was on his way from Edmonton, knowing that as soon as Ranford's plane touched down at Logan last night, he would go back to keeping the bench warm.

He knew his fate was sealed. It didn't matter if he played like Ken Dryden, or Ken Burns, against the New Jersey Devils yesterday afternoon. It didn't matter if he pitched a shutout or served up a stinker in front of the sellout crowd at the Fleet.

Say this about Billington. He may have lost his job, but he certainly didn't lose any of his legion of admirers. While the caliber of his goaltending has at times come into question, there should be no doubt about his character.

Billington opted for the high road. He pulled out a Dryden. He played superbly yesterday, making 34 saves in the B's 3-2 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champions. In fact, it may have been the best game he's played all year, and perhaps, his best as a Bruin.

He did what everyone is expecting Ranford to do - make all the routine stops, and throw in a few of the spectacular variety along the way.

Was the trade at all on his mind yesterday?

"There was a trade?" Billington responded facetiously.

A voice from the crowd of reporters around him piped in: "Yeah, Wayne Gretzky to St. Louis."

As of the moment, the Gretzky deal is only a rumor. The Ranford to Boston, deal, however, was made a reality on Thursday.

"The trade is part of hockey," Billington finally went on. "My job is to play, stop pucks. Until I'm the general manager, I won't comment on trades."

Was Billington then, making a statement to his bosses with his play? Was this his way of saying, "Hey, don't forget about me. I'm not so bad. I can still play this game."

"I basically don't look for any individual game to make any statement," he replied. "Every day I try to make a statement at practice, when I play, when I don't play. I don't think it's a one-game or one-day thing. It's what you bring to the rink every day, and that's what I try to do, and hopefully it doesn't go unnoticed."

Well, plenty of people noticed yesterday. It was also plenty noticeable after the game that Billington was not a happy man. He had just turned in a tremendousperformance, helped win an important game, and yet, there was no sense of joy in him. He still firmly believes the in-house goaltenders could have done the job without the front office having to make a move.

Many of us disagree, but Billington shouldn't be faulted for having that opinion. He has performed admirably of late, it just wasn't good enough. Essentially, he was holding the top spot until something better came along. Now, that something better is here. Ranford is the man. Billington, meanwhile, is the back-up.

"Look, I've seen so many strange things happen in my day," Billington said, "I don't worry about the stuff that goes on. I just go play."

And play, he did.

In the first two periods, he kept the Bruins in the game. The Devils clearly dominated in the early going. Through no fault of his, New Jersey sprung to a 2-0 lead. It could have gone to three numerous times, but Billington kept coming up with the big saves. None were bigger than his second-period stop on Stephane Richer, who was making a short-handed bid. With six minutes left to play, Richer broke in alone, streaking in from the left side. He cut right, and attempted to stick the puck back between Billington's pads. The B's netminder, however, calmly stifled the bid with a left pad save.

Billington, who is now 7-2-2 in his last 11 games, was asked if it was hard to maintain his focus in light of the recent transaction?

"Don't they say that in the eye of the hurricane is the calmest spot?" he answered.

Well, Billington was indeed the picture of calm, both in goal, as well as the interview room.

"I've learned one thing," he said, "and that is the belief in yourself overrides anything all. And that's not just talk."

He may just be the back-up, he may not be good enough to be a full-time starter, but believe this much. The Bruins would be lucky to have a roomful of Craig Billingtons.

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