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Denis knows what's expected here

Lightning's new goalie sees little pressure from a demanding coach and the price paid for his services.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
Published August 23, 2006

TAMPA - Marc Denis said he likes to think of himself as thick-skinned.

Good thing, because the Lightning's new goaltender is going to need some sturdy armor.

Consider the situation in which he finds himself.

Denis (pronounced den-ee) was acquired to replace John Grahame, who took most of the blame for a 2005-06 season in which Tampa Bay barely made the playoffs and was booted in five games by the Senators in the East quarterfinals.

He will play for no-nonsense coach John Tortorella, who has little patience for goofups and is particularly hard on goalies. Remember when he publicly ripped Grahame after a Game 4 loss to Ottawa?

And in the trade that brought Denis from the Blue Jackets, the Lightning gave up Fredrik Modin, a 30-goal scorer who was liked in the locker room as much as he was respected on the ice.

Difficult. But Denis said he is up for a challenge.

"There's definitely going to be a spotlight on my position," he said Tuesday. "My work is definitely going to be under a microscope. But is that pressure? I don't know. Having five kids to feed at home and no job, that's pressure.

"You want to perform. You want to win championships. That's why I was brought down here, and that's what I'm looking forward to getting done as soon as possible."

The tough coach, his notoriously brutal training camp, the expectations, fitting in with teammates - Denis said it's just part of the territory.

"You said pressure, whatever you want to call it; responsibility, accountability," he said. "I understand what comes with the job of being a goaltender."

Give Denis this: He plays the part well.

Sitting on a black, leather couch in a conference room at the St. Pete Times Forum, he was as relaxed as if in his own living room.

The Montreal native chatted about how the furniture for his Tampa home arrived on time at 7:30 Tuesday morning, and how he is looking forward to flying back to Canada, picking up his 9-year-old bearded collie, Katou, and driving back to Tampa.

"Get a couple of coffees and have some quiet time," he said.

Denis said wife Marie-Josee and sons Thomas, 4, and Olivier, 2, will join him next week.

Mostly, though, Denis, who turned 29 on Aug. 1, talked about what he is about to face.

He said he knows all about Tortorella's reputation with goaltenders and how he put Grahame on notice in the Ottawa series, and is fine with the process.

"He has a right to be hard on goalies," Denis said. "It's a very important position. I understand that. Just like everything else, at this point in my career, I'm ready for that challenge."

He also said the outburst against Grahame should not be viewed in a vacuum.

"You've got to remember, there's usually a lot of things and a lot of questions and a lot of nights leading up to that explosion," Denis said. "At the same time, as long as what he said is the truth and what's being said is the same behind closed doors, I have no problem with it.

"I love my kids, but some days I'm willing to tell my brother-in-law that they haven't been good."

Denis has been good with the Blue Jackets.

In 2002-03 he played 77 games and a then-record 4,511 minutes, and last season he was 21-25-1 with a .900 save percentage for a team that won just nine of its first 35 games and finished eight games below .500.

He was 17-6-1 when given at least three goals (considering Tampa Bay's potential firepower, that could be huge) and 3-1 in shootouts, stopping 14 of 18 shots.

"What it says is when the game is close, I want to be winning that game," Denis said. "When you smell blood, you go for the kill."

"I've always believed there was more for Marc to do," said general manager Jay Feaster, president of AHL Hershey in 1997-98, when Denis played there as a member of the Avalanche organization.

"He hasn't forgotten how to win. He hasn't lost that competitive edge. He hasn't lost that desire to be a winner. We think there is an upside to his game."

Feaster knows giving up Modin leaves a hole, and some Lightning players lamented the loss.

Said center Tim Taylor: "He typified what this whole organization wanted: good work ethic, dedication, heart, desire toward the game. It's tough to swallow. But to get a player of Denis' stature, you have to do that."

"I see it as flattering and maybe a confidence boost that they were willing to part with such an important piece of the puzzle here to come and get me," Denis said. "It's not extra pressure."

Just one more thing to bounce off his thick skin.

[Last modified August 23, 2006, 01:40:52]

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