Darcy Kuemper or Pavel Francouz? For Avalanche coach Jared Bednar, it’s simple. Here’s why.

Even then he didn’t say much. Brent Belecki knew if Darcy Kuemper was ready to rock by looking deep into his eyes. If he spotted a flame, even a flicker, burning from soul to pupil, the boy was ready to go between the pipes.

“When people don’t know Kuemper, sometimes they see him as a little quiet or distant,” said Belecki, who was Kuemper’s position coach for two seasons with the Red Deer (Alberta) Rebels of the Western Hockey League.

“But it’s just the opposite. No need to yell and yell and take over the mic. You can talk on the ice.”

From his home in Calgary, where he works as a firefighter, Belecki has watched the Avalanche goaltender be punched, injured, kicked and, against Nashville, poked in the eye for the past seven weeks.

“(Darcy) is a fierce competitor,” observed Belecki. “So if he could go, he would. Something is bothering him. I’m not sure what it is.”

He does not want to speculate at this point. But he does know this: if Kümper says, as the keeper hinted late last week, that he is “100%” ready to go to the Stanley Cup Finals this week, then that’s good enough for him. And it should be good enough for Avs trainer Jared Bednar too.

“(Kuemper) would just take it,” Belecki said. “Don’t think he would say much about it. But I know he would burn inside.”

A decade ago, the two would spend hours on the ice before Red Deer trained, two or three times a week, 10 days a month. They snapped off the tape and then worked to smooth out Kuemper’s rough edges in the crease. moving stuff. position things. Mental stuff, mostly.

“(He wasn’t) a prototypical ‘strange goalie,'” Belecki recalled. “A fairly reserved, focused player. No quirks.

“But you kind of look him in the eye and there’s an intensity and a drive that wants to perform. And knows that he can certainly perform well.”

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