A lot of goaltenders have come and gone for the Colorado Avalanche over the last decade. Some have been journeyman career minor leaguers or those once thought of as promising prospects who were never seen again after unplanned emergency NHL debuts such as Spencer Martin and Adam Werner. And then there were those unlikeliest to see action with the big club yet through unforeseen circumstances were called upon to suit up for the Avalanche, which includes former system goaltender Roman Will.
Though Will spent the majority of his upbringing in the Czech Republic youth system he transferred for one year as an import to the QMJHL and spent his 19-year old season with the Moncton Wildcats in 2011-12. This impressive campaign likely caught the eye of the Avalanche organization as that year Will was named a QMJHL first team all-star with a .913 save percentage and 2.77 GAA and put Will on the radar for more North American action.
That opportunity did not come to fruition until two years later, however. Will returned to the Czech Republic and had a couple successful seasons as a professional in a lower division with BK Mlada Boleslav before signing a two-year Entry Level Contract with the Avalanche on May 26, 2014. Will was 22-years old at the start of the 20214-15 season and ready for the challenge. For his first professional season in North America Will spent the majority of his time in the ECHL with the Fort Wayne Komets where he was a fan favorite and named to the league’s all-rookie team after complaining a 17-8-4 record with a .921 save percentage.
For the 2015-16 campaign Will was a mainstay in the AHL with the San Antonio Rampage and posted a 10-13-3 record on a struggling team. But it only took one recall to get thrust into NHL action. Avalanche starting goaltender Semyon Varlamov was unavailable at the time so Will was tasked to back up Calvin Pickard. A poor outing by Pickard which saw the Avalanche down 4-0 to start the third period led to head coach Patrick Roy switching up the goaltending for the final frame and gave Will his NHL debut. Will made two saves on three shots as the Sharks cruised to a 6-1 win and was sent back to the minors two days later.
At the conclusion of the 2015-16 season the Avalanche declined to extend a qualifying offer to Will and he was a free agent and took his talents back to Europe. This is where the story ends for most goaltenders the Avalanche have moved on from but Will clearly was not done with hockey. In fact many players who have exited the Avalanche organization go on to enjoy long and fruitful playing careers overseas.
Will followed a path which was very similar to fellow countryman and Avalanche goaltender Pavel Francouz. After a couple productive years in the Czech Extraliga it was then time for Will to move on to the challenge of other European leagues. First to Rögle in Sweden and then to the KHL in Russia to — perhaps not coincidentally — the same team Francouz played for in Chelyabinsk. The similarities don’t stop there as Will was recently named to Czechia’s Olympic team following in the footsteps of Francouz who took the opportunity to represent his country in the 2018 games also without NHL players in attendance.
Great season with Traktor (21-9) and KHL's Top-5 SV% (.929) secured for Roman Will invitation to Team Czechia for upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics. pic.twitter.com/B5c1EK26Oq— KHL (@khl_eng) January 22, 2022
Now it remains to be seen if these steps lead 29-year old Will back to an opportunity in North America like it did for Francouz or if he’s content to continue on having success in Europe. Perhaps it is the latter as Will has found a home in Russia the last two seasons and enjoyed a lot of success backstopping one of the best teams in the KHL. Will also recently signed an extension to remain with Chelyabinsk through the 2023-24 season. However all it takes is a good performance to get noticed all over again.