Goalie has something to prove
Jets new keeper looking for a bounceback season
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/07/2022 (322 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The way David Rittich sees it, he has plenty in common with the Winnipeg Jets. Both believe they are a lot better than recent results would suggest.
“Of course, I’m looking for a bounceback,” the club’s new backup goaltender said Thursday in a Zoom interview from his native Czechia.
Rittich was once viewed as a rising star in the crease, racking up 51 wins with Calgary over two seasons (2018-19, 2019-20). He was even named an NHL all-star in 2020. But then COVID-19 hit, the NHL shut down for a few months, and nothing was ever really the same again.
Rittich, 29, lost his starting job to then-Flames teammate Mike Smith when play resumed inside the Edmonton bubble, then took a back seat the following year when high-profile free agent Jacob Markström was brought in as the new No. 1.
“At that time, I wasn’t very happy about that, to be honest. It is what it is,” he admitted. It was a similar story after signing last year in Nashville, where he saw little action behind the stellar Juuse Saros as the Predators scratched and clawed their way to a wildcard spot.
“It’s hard to get going, it’s hard to feel good, it’s hard to get your form back when you’re playing once a month,” said Rittich, who only started 12 of Nashville’s 82 regular-season games last year, along with five relief appearances. A 6-3-4 record with a 3.57 goals-against-average and .886 save-percentage was the end result.
“When you’re playing once a month and you let in one goal, you’re saying to yourself, ‘Oh boy.’”
The leash was even shorter in the playoffs, with Saros sidelined by injury. Rittich let in five goals on the first 15 shots he faced in the first period of Game 1 against Colorado, then was given the hook and never saw the net again. Third-stringer Connor Ingram took over the rest of the series — and Nashville was swept in four.
What makes him think life will be any different in Winnipeg this coming campaign, after inking a one-year, US$900,000 deal Wednesday to be Connor Hellebuyck’s understudy?
“There was some communication between us. We all know where we are,” Rittich said. “Of course I know Connor Hellebuyck is one of the best goalies in the league. So, I’m looking to have his back, to learn something from him and to be a good partner, a good teammate. I would love to play every other night, but we’ll see how things go.”
Rittich, who stands 6-3 and weighs 206 pounds, fills the void left by Eric Comrie, who signed a two-year pact with the Buffalo Sabres that will pay him US$1.8 million per year. That proved to be too rich for Winnipeg, especially with Hellebuyck once again expected to carry the bulk of the workload (he started 66 of 82 games last year).
“New season, new team, new start. Everything can change. Everything can turn around,” said Rittich. “If I am going to flip the coin, you don’t really know what’s going to happen after that. I don’t really know if I can tell you if I am the same goalie or different. It’s up to you to find out.”
Rittich already has a solid connection to Winnipeg, as he lived in Adam Lowry’s Calgary home while a member of the Flames.
“So, we had a lot of conversations and I was already in touch with him. And also, I met Connor Hellebuyck and Mark Scheifele at the All-Star Game,” he said.
Rittich is expecting the heat will be turned on now that he’s back in a Canadian market.
“To be honest with you, I didn’t miss the Canadian media. No. I’m just kidding. I had to say that because in the U.S., it’s way easier on the players,” he joked. “I played in Canada. I know what to expect. I would assume Winnipeg media, fans, would be the same, hard as the Calgarians are. I’m expecting the same thing as in Calgary. I’m prepared. I was in those shoes and I will do everything possible to be successful — not just me, but the whole team.”
Rittich was one of two players signed Wednesday by the Jets as free agency began, with depth forward Kevin Stenlund being the other.
They added two more skaters Thursday in forward Alex Limoges and defenceman Kyle Capobianco.
Limoges, 24, is an undrafted winger from Virginia who spent four years playing college hockey at Penn State where he served as captain, then the last two years on an AHL deal with San Diego. Limoges had 61 points (34G, 27A) in 85 games with the Gulls. His one-year entry-level deal pays US$780,000 in the NHL.
Capobianco, 24, has been in Arizona’s system after being selected in the third round in 2015. The left-shooting blue-liner from Ontario has 10 points (3G, 7A) in 59 NHL games, and 112 points (21G, 91A) in 155 AHL games, where he’s a two-time all-star. His two-year contract pays him US $762,500 in the NHL.
Winnipeg also lost a pair of forwards on Thursday. Austin Poganski signed a one-year contract with the Seattle Kraken, while C.J. Suess inked a one-year deal with the San Jose Sharks.
Poganski, 26, played in 16 games with the Jets (no points) and 49 with the Manitoba Moose (nine goals, 21 assists) last year. Suess, 28, skated in three games with Winnipeg (no points) and 46 with the Moose (14 goals, 14 assists) last year.
Winnipeg has also said goodbye to forwards Adam Brooks (signed with Philadelphia on Wednesday), Kristian Vesalainen (signed to play next year in Sweden) and, presumably, unrestricted free agents Paul Stastny, Evgeny Svechnikov and Zach Sanford, who are still seeking employment in the NHL.
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.
Updated on Friday, July 15, 2022 12:27 AM CDT: Fixes photo caption typo.