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Can't keep Billington down

By Adrian Dater
Denver Post Sports Writer

Sept. 23 - He is the Colorado Avalanche's equivalent of Prozac, a person
everyone should be prescribed to see when they're looking at the glass as being
half-empty.

Craig Billington should be on late-night TV pitching his infectious brand of
optimism. Come to think of it, the Avs' goalie just might do that some day.

A man with many different entrepreneurial interests, Billington has done
everything from host the local sports on TV to creating his own web site.

Sunday night in San Jose, Calif., there was a web site of a different kind. It was
the webbing of Billington's catching glove, and it devoured most everything in
sight.

Billington stopped 24 of 25 shots in Colorado's 3-1 exhibition game victory over
the Sharks.

Even though the game didn't count, Billington will take it given the events
surrounding the previous time he played at the San Jose Arena.

On April 4 of last season, Billington had a game that might have prompted some
goalies to retire on the spot. On a night when Patrick Roy was hurt and
unavailable, Billington and the Avs suffered through a horrible night.

Billington allowed seven goals on 29 shots in a 7-6 Sharks victory. Even his
saves were adventures.

But, as with anything negative, Billington put the game quickly out of his mind.
In fact, Billington had long forgotten the game until a glass-half-empty reporter
reminded him of it.

"Whether you have good games or bad games in the past, you just focus on
getting better. Really, that's what it's all about,'' Billington said. "I'm fortunate
enough to be entering my 13th year, and it's still a day-in, day-out improving
process.''

One bad game with the Avs would never get Billington down, anyway. This,
after all, is a man who suffered through one of the worst seasons in NHL
history with the 1993-94 Ottawa Senators. That season, one year after making
the NHL all-star team with New Jersey, Billington posted an 11-41-4 record
with the Sens. Ottawa finished the season 14-61-9.

That's why, despite the horrendous night in San Jose, Billington came away
from his first season with the Avalanche feeling great.

His 11-8-2 record and 2.65 goals-against average were good numbers for a
backup goalie, one who started the year with Cincinnati of the International
Hockey League.

Still, there was the question of whether Billington would be back. With super
prospect Marc Denis having another year of junior experience under his belt, it
remained to be seen if Billington would be sent on his way to make room for
Denis.

The answer, it turned out, was no. Billington will be back as the backup, and he
couldn't be happier. But life would have gone on if he didn't make the team.

"They were very up front and honest with me from day one,'' Billington said of
the Avalanche. "I knew that things went fairly well in the season and that
Patrick (Roy) and I had gotten along well, but you really don't know until you've
signed the deal and they've said, "Yeah, we'd like to have you back.'‚''

Even though he teaches youngsters during the summer at his goalie camps,
Billington said it's never too late for him to learn new things about his craft.

"As we know, the game has changed over the past 20 to 30 years, and you
have to stay on top of it and continually find new and different ways to stop the
puck,'' Billington said. "Ultimately, that is our job. As the game evolves, you
have to evolve with it. If you don't, I think it passes you by.''

And letting things pass by is something a goalie never wants to let happen.



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