- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 7, 2003

Craig Billington's name didn't last too long on the rolls of the unemployed.

The retired Washington Capitals goaltender said yesterday he was joining the Colorado Avalanche as a consultant, working with the team's prospects in the minors and scouting prospects.

Billington, who was in his 15th NHL season, was bought out by the Caps in mid-December after it became apparent that his playing days, at least with Washington, were over. He was in the final year of a contract that called for him to make $867,000.

He had a record of 1-3-1 with a goals-against average of 4.70 this season; he was 109-146-30 with a GAA of 3.61 entering the season. He passed through waivers three times.

Earlier this season there were times when he was not his usual chirpy self, but yesterday he sounded as enthused, energetic and ready to challenge giants as he was when he first joined the league in 1985 with New Jersey.

"I had an offer to play in Switzerland, and there was some interest in my doing analyst work for television," he said. "Then [Colorado general manager] Pierre Lacroix called, we talked and I'm really excited about the challenge. I've talked to [Avalanche goalie] Patrick Roy, and he was excited about it, too."

Billington also has played for Ottawa, Boston and Colorado and for years has referred to himself as the first backup-by-design. He was challenged this year in camp by Sebastien Charpentier, who eventually got the job.

"No," he said bluntly when asked if he thought it would end like this. "Everybody wants it to end like it did for Raymond Bourque, raising the Stanley Cup and calling it a day when they're done. But the reality is, things went the way they did for me. It was obviously a frustrating time.

"And I am truly going to miss the game, I really am. I already do. I am so thankful to the game itself and everything it's brought to my life the people I've met, the life I live, everything. There are some great memories."

The best memory?

"I wouldn't know where to start," he said. "I can remember one time there was a snow storm and nobody made it to the rink at Piney Orchard except the guys who lived right there. We decided rather than waste the ice, we'd just play hockey. No arguments well, heck, we argued about everything if you want the truth but we had a ball. Just a bunch of guys. I'll never forget that."

Billington came to the Caps from the Avalanche thanks to Dale Hunter, who closed his career with Colorado and recommended the goalie to general manager George McPhee. Billington was the first on the ice for every practice and the last off, working with any player who wanted a live target to shoot at.

"Every day I went to the rink I emptied the tank, gave it all I had," he said. "I don't have any 'what if's,' and the people who played with me know that. That's why it's been such a great experience."

On a related matter, Maxime Ouellet, the Caps' top goaltending prospect, was named the American Hockey League's player of the week. The Portland Pirates' starter went 3-0-1 last week with three shutouts, a GAA of 0.98 and a save percentage of .971 after stopping all but four of the 138 shots he faced.

Ouellet's accomplishment comes as the Pirates ran up a record of 6-1-1 in less than two weeks.

Ouellet was the prize Philadelphia dangled in March of last season when the Flyers were desperate for a top-flight center to carry them into the playoffs. They got Adam Oates, but it was not a match made in heaven Philadelphia was bumped out of postseason in the first round, and Oates wound up in Anaheim as a free agent.

In the process of posting three-plus shutouts, Ouellet broke the Pirates' record of 170:17 minutes without allowing a goal. Ouellet went 193:42 to demolish the mark held by Jim Carey, who won a Vezina Trophy as a Cap.

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