Becoming a starting goaltender in the NHL is truly a cumbersome task. Goaltenders are usually the most criticized players on the ice, yet are also cherished by a truly anxious fan base.
Most goaltenders grow accustom to the limelight that comes with the position.
Fans of the Detroit Red Wings were extremely critical on a once top goaltending prospect who seldom got time in net. That goaltender was Jimmy Howard.
After spending four seasons with the AHL-affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins, Howard was ready to step into the starter's role in the 2009-2010 season. He had only nine appearances prior to the 2009-2010 season and was ready to become the next netminder in Hockeytown.
Howard's rookie season might be dubbed as one of the best ever in Red Wings history. The native of Syracuse, New York, was able to start 63 games for the Red Wings that season. He carried the team on his back and won the hearts of many fans with his 37-15-13 record, 2.26 goals against average and .924 save percentage.
His stellar rookie season was so great that the young backstop was nominated for the Calder Memorial Trophy, annually awarded to the best rookie during the season. Howard ended up finishing second to Buffalo's Tyler Myers for the award.
Unfortunately, the "sophomore slump" got to Howard.
Howard saw his GAA and save percentage drop to 2.79 and .908 respectively. Despite this, his win total was the same.
Howard was determined to come back and prove to the fans in Detroit he was their franchise goaltender. After GM Kenny Holland re-signed him to a two-year contract, Jimmy's game was back to his rookie form.
Howard compiled a 35-17-4 record in 56 starts in 2011-2012. He was fifth in the League with five shutouts and sported a 2.13 GAA, good for sixth best in the NHL.
His outstanding play even earned him a bid to the 2012 NHL All-Star Game in Ottawa. He was even in some mid-season talk to earn a nomination for the Vezina Trophy.
The case has been made for this 28-year-old goaltender.
With a season possibly on the brink, Howard can only look forward from the progress he made."Howie" might not fill up the net (6'0", 218) but he relies on his reflexes and play from post-to-post to stonewall opposing teams.
Howard's glove hand is very slick and he controls rebounds in front of his own net very well. Much of the credit in his development can be given to Jim Bedard, Detroit's goaltending coach and Chris Osgood, who played with Howard in 2009-10 and 2010-11.
But Howard's might be best known league wide for standing his ground in the net. From face washing Sidney Crosby in a game to punching Vancouver's Jannik Hansen after a controversial goal, Howard likes to defend himself in a position where his players protect him.
That's a nice (and also refreshing) thing to see from a goaltender.
There is no question of his durability; he has started 183 games in three seasons. Injuries to his groin and blocker hand limited his time this past season.
Even with missing time this past season, Howard still managed to eclipse the 35 win plateau and in three straight seasons.
Many fans will agree that Jimmy Howard is just entering his prime. While some still hold over his head goals that they would love to have back, the solution in net is here for now.
Waiting in the wings is a young prospect named Petr Mrazek of the Ottawa 67's. While he might be several years away from touching NHL ice, the pressure will be on Howard not so much for the wins; itt will be to advance his team past the Western Conference Semis, something he has failed to do.
That is just another challenge for Jimmy Howard to overcome. And with any new season Howard's eyes are on the prize of winning the Stanley Cup.
And silencing the critics once and for all.