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Up-to-the minute updates and insights from the Red Wings locker room at home and on the road. By Chuck Pleiness of The Macomb Daily.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Howard's beginning

TRAVERSE CITY -- Jimmy Howard was in mid-sentence, explaining how his commitment to summer workouts helped him lose 10 pounds and get in the best shape of his life. Just then, teammate Chris Osgood walked by and said, "I'll be right back, Moose."

First impressions linger.

Howard, the Detroit Red Wings' second-round draft pick in 2003, has always been known as a big goaltender, a moose. At 6-foot-0 and more than 200 pounds, covering a lot of net has been a strength for the former University of Maine standout.

Having lost 10 pounds this summer, Howard covers slightly less net and the Red Wings' management is delighted.

"Jimmy, I didn't even recognize him," said Detroit coach Mike Babcock. "He's like a different person, he's lost so much weight. When you make a commitment to fitness, you have a chance for your skill to come out. … To me, he's taken a huge step this summer. We're thankful for that because obviously he has the ability. Now he's got to do it. One thing about our league, it's a one-goal league or a half-a-goal league. So you can't let in bad goals."

What makes Jimmy Howard an interesting player at the team's training camp (which runs through Tuesday) is the two goaltenders ahead of him on Detroit's depth chart. Both Osgood and Dominik Hasek are signed just through this season. Both Osgood and Hasek are nearing the end of their careers.

Howard is potentially the netminder of the future for the Red Wings. Although he'll likely play this season in Grand Rapids -- Howard acknowledged that after Friday's practice -- Howard is a key to the Red Wings' future. If he doesn't have a strong season this winter, the Red Wings will need to come up with a new plan for goaltending next season.

"This is a big year for Jimmy Howard," said Detroit general manager Ken Holland. "He wants to play in the NHL. We want him to play in the NHL. It's time for him to send us a message, play well, let everybody know that you're right there. He had a good rookie year. We were hoping that he was going to step up last year and I think in a lot of areas, he did. In some areas, we were hoping he'd step up a little quicker. That's going to play itself out. The hope is that he's going to be an NHL goalie."

It was an injury suffered at training camp by Osgood two years ago that sprung Howard into the NHL for his professional debut. Then 21 years old, Howard got into four NHL games before going to Grand Rapids to stay.

That season, he battled with Joey MacDonald for playing time in the American Hockey League. Last winter, Howard clearly bested Stefan Liv in Grand Rapids and got into a team-high 49 games in net with the Griffins.

"I've had a taste of (the NHL) and that makes me want it that much more," said Howard. "When I get the opportunity to play out there, I want to seize the moment."

To help his cause, Howard stepped up his summertime training, working out six days a week on cardio-vascular. Taking just Sundays off, Howard's circuit training helped him drop 10 pounds before arriving in Traverse City.

"It allows you to play for a longer time at a higher intensity," said Howard.

Better physical condition and cutting out the occasional soft goal will go a long way to endearing Howard to the Red Wings' front office. For now, he's preparing himself for Grand Rapids. Howard lists his goal for this season as playing in the AHL all-star game.

But that's really just another step in a bigger goal.

"You always want to show them that you're capable of being the goalie of the future, stepping in for one of the best teams in the NHL," said Howard. "I'm ready. I know I am. I want it. I'm chomping at the bit. I'm going to show them everything that I have and everything that I've worked on."


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