Comrie’s positive attitude pays off

Jets’ popular backup goalie turning heads

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ELMONT, N.Y — Eric Comrie is proof that good things happen to good people.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/03/2022 (272 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

ELMONT, N.Y — Eric Comrie is proof that good things happen to good people.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more likeable, upbeat and generally positive person than the Winnipeg Jets backup goaltender, who is feeling the love these days from teammates along with the faithful supporters of the squad. So much so, in fact, that there was plenty of fan protest on social media Friday night when No. 1 netminder Connor Hellebuyck was in the crease as his club played a second straight night, this time against the New York Islanders.

Now that is a development few, if any, saw coming. But in a “what have you done for me lately” business, there’s no question Comrie is opening eyes while Hellebuyck has left some of the same people shaking their heads.

Eduardo Munoz Alvarez / The Associated Press Winnipeg Jets goaltender Eric Comrie keeps an eye on the puck after a save during the third period of the Jets 2-1 win over the New Jersey Devils Thursday.

The 26-year-old Comrie was rock-solid one night earlier in Newark, N.J., stopping 33 of 34 shots as the Jets downed the New Jersey Devils 2-1. It’s the seventh win of the year for Comrie in just 10 starts (7-2-1), and his fourth straight since the calendar flipped to 2022. His goals against average is down to a stellar 2.34, his save percentage up to a terrific .920. Those numbers both rank 10th-overall among all NHL netminders with at least 10 appearances this year.

All of which has plenty of folks up in arms over why he’s not playing more, especially since Hellebuyck (19-20-9, 2.97 GAA, .908 save percentage) has not been up to his usual high standards, especially lately. Prior to facing the Islanders, he’d been beat for at least four goals in five straight games (22 goals total over that span). He looks tired, which is why interim coach Dave Lowry opted to give him an extra day of rest and have Comrie kick off the road trip by playing the start of the back-to-back, rather than the end of it as the No. 2 usually does.

Still, Hellebuyck is the masked face of the franchise. The go-to-guy. The workhorse. He’s earned the benefit of the doubt and a much longer leash. And nobody understands that more than his understudy.

“Especially when you play on a team with Connor Hellebuyck who’s a Vezina Trophy winner and one of the best in the world at what he does,” Comrie said of knowing his role, which means potentially going a few weeks between outings.

“For myself, it’s just staying ready as much as I can. I get to watch him in practice, get to see what he’s like, because that guys, it’s truly phenomenal what he can do and how good he is. When I get to watch him in practice, I get to learn from it, and we also have a really good goaltending coach in Wade Flaherty who does a lot of extra work with me. We work every single day, 30 minutes before practice, 30 minutes after practice. I don’t think people understand how much small details go into a game like this and how much he prepares me for these game.”

As we said, Comrie is as high-quality as they come.

“He’s the type of teammate you’re cheering for, you’re hoping for his success,” said Jets winger and leading scorer Kyle Connor.

“He’s such a good guy, even when he’s not playing, he’s on the bench tapping you, ‘Good look there, great chance.’ When he gets back in the net there, we’re working extra-hard for him. He’s established a role back there this year. He’s been steady and when he’s been called upon, he’s been ready to go.”

Heck, even opponents find it easy to get along with him. New Jersey forward Jack Hughes, who was the only one to beat him Thursday night, congratulated him on a terrific save later in the game.

“Hughes came over and said, ‘You keep making saves on all my good shots,’ and I said, ‘Well, you scored one already, that’s enough for you tonight,’” said Comrie.

Comrie may not be playing as much as some would like, but there’s no question he’s thrilled to have some stability in his original hockey home after two topsy-turvy seasons in which he passed around the waiver wire like a hot potato, making pit-stops in Detroit, Arizona, New Jersey and ultimately back to Winnipeg. He played just five games all of last year — one with the Devils, four with the Manitoba Moose — while spending the majority of his time on Winnipeg’s taxi squad during the pandemic.

With the Jets having minimal salary-cap room last summer, they signed Comrie to a one-year, league-minimum deal (US$750,000), with the idea that Hellebuyck was going to get the vast majority of starts. It’s safe to say he’s exceeded expectations.

“I think Eric has been great for us all year. Really great in practice, always the guy that’s out late. Whatever the guys want to work on,” said Jets defenceman Nate Schmidt.

“What surprises me the most about Eric is how calm he is in games. He really keeps himself composed, how he approaches his angles and his post work when he goes side to side. He doesn’t over-extend himself. He doesn’t push out of the way. He’s very calm, cool and collected when he moves across the crease, which is something you see as a goalie that is very, that calming factor and I think that’s helped him a bunch this year.”

The Jets have four more sets of back-to-backs remaining over the final 23 games, so Comrie’s number is going to get called at least a few more times down the stretch. His workload could increase even more if/when Winnipeg is ultimately eliminated from playoff contention. Comrie is a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this summer, and he’s certainly earned at least a modest pay raise given his performance to date

“Our guys have a lot of faith in what he’s been able to do and I think that, as a backup goalie, is what you want. As players, that’s what you want to see from a guy, that you know he’s coming in there and he’s going to give it,” said Schmidt.

“It’s a thankless job a lot of the days but a lot of the guys respect him and they want to play hard for him because they know he’s giving the extra effort. Connor’s been playing a bunch and he needs a day where he gets off early, which is completely understandable for load management. He’s given us a chance every time he’s gone in.”

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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