For practically his entire hockey career, goaltender Frederik Andersen has been "the other guy." From his native Denmark to a season in Sweden to the Anaheim Ducks, he's needed to wrestle the starting job from another top-flight goalie. Now that Anaheim has swept the Winnipeg Jets in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, he's no longer "the other guy." He's just "the guy."
"He showed us all season. Freddy logged a load at the start of the year. That was a lot of games in a row," Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf said. "He won a lot of them and proved why he's a No. 1 goaltender in the league. He proved it again [in the playoffs]. He played outstanding for us."
High praise for a goaltender who was completely off the hockey map just five years ago. But his path to becoming the established No. 1 on the Western Conference's top seed wasn't smooth. From the moment he arrived in Norfolk in 2012 to play on Anaheim's American Hockey League affiliate, he was another guy in a franchise boasting the most goaltending depth in the NHL.
There was already Igor Bobkov, the third-round pick who led Russia to gold at the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championship. And Viktor Fasth, the Swedish free agent who was named top goaltender at the 2011 IIHF World Championship. And, of course, John Gibson, a 2011 second-round pick touted as a can't-miss franchise keeper.
Andersen, as he had been the year before with Frolunda in the Swedish Elite League, was the other guy. And just as he had with Frolunda, he came out on top, leading Norfolk with 47 games played.
"I've always had that. Even growing up. There's always going to be another guy, I guess. I think it just brings the best out in me," Andersen said. "I remember even in Denmark I had a guy compete with me a little bit. In Sweden, as well, there was me and another guy who had to compete for ice time."
By the time Andersen earned his first extended call-up with Anaheim in 2013-14, the crease competition was even more crowded. The established starter, Jonas Hiller, was an All-Star and Fasth had signed a two-year extension after posting an 8-0-0 record and 1.78 goals-against average in his first nine NHL appearances. That season when Andersen got hurt, Gibson was called up and, not to be outdone, at age 20, posted a shutout in his NHL debut.
Despite injuries, including a lower-body ailment that forced him out of last year's second-round series against the Los Angeles Kings, Andersen established himself. He posted a 20-5-0 record and was named to the All-Rookie Team. But despite those accolades, all the talk regarding Anaheim's net was about Gibson, who shut out the Kings in his NHL playoff debut and made 39 saves in a win two nights later. The Kings won the series in seven games, but Gibson's performance was enough to convince the Ducks not to bring back Hiller, who signed a two-year deal with the Calgary Flames last summer. The Flames and Ducks begin their second-round series Thursday night in Anaheim. Game time is 10 ET.
Forced to compete with the can't-miss kid this season, Andersen was in his element. Being forgotten so soon after his exceptional rookie season pushed him to again show what he was capable of. In the end, he ranked eighth in the NHL with 35 wins.
"I like a little bit of added, not pressure, but more motivation," Andersen said. "It's a fight-or-flight kind of mentality. It pushes you even more, so you've got to be your best."
Andersen's current status as Anaheim's undisputed No. 1 was aided in part by Gibson's struggling with injuries this season. With the top prospect still working his way back from an upper-body injury, Andersen seems to have earned the top spot in net, not to mention the attention of the hockey world.
"I definitely think [his play] is sustainable. There's only one net, so whether he's that guy in Anaheim or somewhere else [in the future], that's up to the organization," said Kevin Weekes, a former NHL goalie and current TV analyst. "I'm really impressed with him. He works hard on his game. He played some baseball to work on his glove hand. He's a focused kid. Guys like him in that locker room and have a lot of respect for him."
As it turns out, Andersen has always relished the gift of low expectations. That can happen when you come from a small Danish town like Herning, which despite resting completely off the hockey map has groomed NHL players Peter Regin, Jannik Hansen, Nicklas Jensen and Frans Nielsen, who Andersen has known almost his entire life.
Those expectations were never lower than when a 20-year-old Andersen started for Denmark at the 2010 Worlds. In his international debut, he went up against a strong Finnish team led by Pekka Rinne in net. The unknown Dane made 36 saves to top the Finns 4-1 in a performance that made headlines in a country known mostly for soccer, cycling and handball.
He would be overwhelmed, 6-1, eight days later against a Russian team boasting NHL superstars Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk. But Andersen still made enough of a blip on the international hockey radar to convince the Carolina Hurricanes to draft him 187th overall in 2010, ahead of only 23 other players.
"I think if you had to point to one game, that [against Finland] would probably be the game that got me into the spotlight a little bit and made sure people noticed me," said Andersen, who never signed with Carolina, re-entered the draft in 2012 and was taken in the third round by Anaheim.
Perhaps faster than anyone expected, Andersen made his way through the Ducks' goaltending gantlet. After injuries derailed his rookie season, he stayed in Southern California last summer and dedicated himself to conditioning. With a second-round matchup against Hiller and Calgary on the horizon, he's taken on all comers. And he's done it with a grace and maturity that has endeared him to teammates. Even those competing with him for the starting job.
"You're here to do a job and I want to be my best. I'm sure with the other goalies it's the same way. Everyone wants to be the guy and be on the ice," Andersen said. "I'm not a guy who gets mad at the other goalie. I've always had a good relationship with anyone on the team. I take care of my business and off the ice we can still be friends. You can't be mean or a d--- to them."
After evaluating that last comment, Andersen pauses before revealing the signature Danish grace that has helped him become "the guy."
"Excuse my language."