Jimmy Howard knows what it is like to play under the intense spotlight of Hockeytown U.S.A.
Hockeytown U.S.A. is a nickname for Detroit, where the former University of Maine All-American goaltender mans the net for the National Hockey League’s Red Wings.
He has been their No. 1 goalie for the last five seasons.
Howard is a celebrity in Detroit, where the Red Wings averaged 22,149 fans per home game last season. The seating capacity at Joe Louis Arena is listed at 20,066, which is more than the population of Howard’s hometown of Ogdensburg, New York (11,083).
It can be daunting for a small-town boy to be recognized and acknowledged everywhere he goes, but his summers are different and essential for his peace of mind.
Howard’s mind is still on hockey to some degree. He puts in two-hour workouts, five days per week, in preparation for the upcoming season.
Summer also enables him to spend quality time with wife, Rachel, and sons, James Howard IV and Henry. James IV turns 3 in October, and his brother was born in June.
Howard will be on hand on 1:30-4:30 p.m. Friday at the grand opening of the Maine Savings Federal Credit Union in Orono, signing autographs and talking to fans.
The Howards bought a home in Dedham on Green Lake several years ago, and it has supplied them with a valuable summer getaway. It also is a homecoming for Rachel, who is a Hampden native.
Howard explained that the decision to buy a house on Green Lake was a “no-brainer.”
“We had a chance to get property on the lake so we jumped at it,” said Howard.
He noted that his wife has made sacrifices, following him around during his pro career, so this is a chance for him to reciprocate. It also provided him with some valuable down time, out of the limelight.
“It’s always nice to get back to Maine because I’m just Jimmy Howard, the person. I’m not Jimmy Howard, the goalie. I show up and do things like play golf at the [Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono] with my buddies. I don’t have people staring at me everywhere I go,” said Howard.
“He enjoys getting away from Detroit in the summer and being out of the limelight,” said former University of Maine strength and conditioning coach Terry O’Neill, who devised and supervised summer workouts for Howard for three years before taking a similar position at Yale University 14 months ago.
“He receives so much attention in Detroit, he likes to take a little bit of a break from it,” O’Neill added.
Howard loves being on the lake, “especially with all the bald eagles out there now. It’s pretty cool to see. They are massive.”
However, Howard could only spend a week at Green Lake this summer, which is much less time than usual. The birth of Henry and his off-season workouts have kept him in Detroit.
“But as the boys get older, I think we’ll be spending a lot more time in Maine,” said Howard. “Once training camp starts, it can be difficult to find time to spend with Rachel and the boys.
“I grew up on the St. Lawrence River, so it’s pretty special to have a place of our own on the water,” said Howard.
The Howards have a 19-foot speedboat that they enjoy, and Howard also likes to spend time on his paddle board.
“James loves being on the boat, and he got to go tubing for the first time this summer,” said Howard.
But you won’t find Howard dipping a fishing line into the lake very often.
“I don’t have enough patience [to fish]. If nothing’s happening, I get bored after 15-20 minutes,” he said.
He does enjoy hitting a golf ball.
“I’m nothing to brag about, but I’m getting better,” said Howard who plays in Michigan as well as at Penobscot Valley Country Club.
“There are a lot of pretty good golfers on our team. [Former Black Bear] Gustav Nyquist is almost a scratch golfer or a 2-3 handicapper,” said Howard.
“Jimmy is a golf fanatic,” said O’Neill.
O’Neill said Howard is a great person with a good sense of humor. He said Howard was extremely cordial to people who would approach him and to acquaintances he had made during his time at Maine.
“Someone would stop down in the weight room while he was working out and ask him for hockey advice, and Jimmy would always give them advice,” said O’Neill. “He would go out of his way to say ‘hi’ and would go and visit people he knew, like the people who ran the dining halls when he was a student here.”
By his own admission, Howard said this has been the longest summer of his pro career.
The Red Wings were eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs by the Boston Bruins, and he elected not to play in the World Championships because of the pending birth of his son.
Howard did earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team in Sochi, Russia, but didn’t get a chance to play. The 30-year-old, an NHL All-Star in 2012, is anxious to bounce back from a frustrating season marred by nagging injuries.
He had a 21-19-11 record with a 2.66 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage. He missed the last two playoff games because of the flu.
He has played in 285 NHL regular-season games and has a 152-86-37 record with a 2.41 GAA and a .916 save percentage.
“I don’t have the best of backs, so I’ve been constantly finding exercises that will help me without injuring myself,” said Howard.
Goalies have to be flexible and be able to make short, quick steps to make saves.
“It is going to be a big year for everyone on our team,” said Howard. “I just want to go out and give the guys a chance to win every night. I want to be one of the league’s top goalies like I have been before.”
Howard set NCAA records for GAA (1.19) and save percentage (.956) at Maine in 2004 and still holds the Maine records for saves in a game (63), career shutouts (15), shutouts in a season (6, twice), career GAA (1.84) and career save percentage (.931).
Training camp begins Sept. 18 in Traverse City, Michigan.