HAMILTON, Ont. - Ignored in the NHL draft, Cedrick Desjardins has had to do things the hard way. And hope someone notices.
The Hamilton Bulldogs goaltender has excelled at every level yet still always seems to slip under the radar.
Desjardins, in his second full season with the Montreal Canadiens' farm team, has another chance to make his mark as the Bulldogs open the AHL playoffs Thursday against the visiting Manitoba Moose.
The 24-year-old was expected to back up veteran Curtis Sanford this year. But injuries to Sanford helped open the door for Desjardins, who's having a career year.
Desjardins is one of the reasons the Bulldogs finished atop the AHL's Western Conference. He leads the league with a 2.00 goals-against-average, and finished with a 29-9-4 record and four shutouts. His solid play this year earned him a spot on the league's second all-star team.
"He is a warrior. He is a battler," said Hamilton coach Guy Boucher. "He can steal a game by himself."
Desjardins has an impressive resume already.
In junior, he had a 30-7-4 record with the Rimouski Oceanic in 2004-05, before leading the Quebec Remparts to the Memorial Cup the following year.
His .927 save percentage in the playoffs - and 46-save performance in the final against the Moncton Wildcats - helped earn him the nod as the tournament's top goaltender.
"I had a little bit of a tough time that year," recalled Desjardins. "They pushed me around because I wasn't doing the job, so they got another goalie. But he got injured, so I had my chance at the end of the year and we won the championship."
In just his second season as a pro, Desjardins' Cincinnati Cyclones won the Kelly Cup as the ECHL's champions. Desjardins was the playoff MVP, posting a .939 save percentage throughout the post-season.
But despite these successes, Desjardins' journey toward the NHL has been slow.
"It starts from the fact that he's not drafted," said Boucher. "That's the sad part about guys who are not drafted. They need to prove twice as much."
Desjardins is also a bit of a late bloomer.
He didn't start playing in goal until he was 12, making the transition from skater because others were unwilling to play goalie in Edmundston, N.B., where he grew up.
And in his first year of junior with the Oceanic, Desjardins struggled to a 1-19-0 record with a 5.28 goals-against-average and .870 save percentage.
"I remember they traded all our big guys and our division was pretty strong. We didn't have any defence," said Desjardins. "We weren't even close to the other teams. But we got the first draft pick, and that turned out to be Sidney Crosby."
Just as he did in junior and the ECHL, Desjardins has quietly gone about excelling for the Bulldogs - and hoping to make it to the next level.
"It's a long road," said Desjardins. "Sometimes it's frustrating when you see other guys (get breaks). But sometimes having an experience like that can help you to get better.
"Having a tough time builds character, and that's one of my biggest strengths - having the character to come back and never give up."
Desjardins' two-way contract with the Canadiens expires at the end of the season. With rumours the Habs may trade Carey Price or Jaroslav Halak in the off-season, the team may be in the market for a backup goalie.
"They're going to have to make a decision," said Desjardins. "When they make that decision, I want them to consider that I'll be there. But it's out of my control.
"I'll take the opportunities - whether it's in Montreal or with another team that will give me a chance. I'll be ready for that challenge. But right now, the biggest challenge for us is the playoffs."
How he does in the playoff could decide Desjardins' future. That kind of pressure is nothing new.
"For goalies, there's only one playing every game," he said. "So when you get your opportunities, you've got to take them and hope they roll on your side."
Said Boucher: "That's how it's always been for him - under the radar (and) has to work harder. Not because he doesn't have more talent than everybody else. It's just he has more grit, more courage, more drive.
"He's got this willingness to excel in big moments."
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