WEATHER ALERT

Comrie happy and healthy in Buffalo Ex-Jets netminder as positive as ever after recovering from early season injury

BUFFALO — Some things never change, and so it wasn’t at all surprising that Eric Comrie was the last one off the ice on Thursday morning at KeyBank Center. Nor was the fact a huge smile was splashed across his face as a group of Winnipeg media greeted him at his locker room stall.

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BUFFALO — Some things never change, and so it wasn’t at all surprising that Eric Comrie was the last one off the ice on Thursday morning at KeyBank Center. Nor was the fact a huge smile was splashed across his face as a group of Winnipeg media greeted him at his locker room stall.

New team. Same work ethic and positive attitude from one of the NHL’s truly good people.

Unfortunately, Comrie’s first season as a member of the Buffalo Sabres hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. The 27-year-old goaltender signed here last summer seeking a bigger opportunity than the one he would get as the understudy to Connor Hellebuyck had he remained with the Winnipeg Jets. Some inconsistent play on an inconsistent team, however, followed by a significant injury, have put a bit of a damper on things so far.

Eric Comrie appeared in 227 NHL and AHL games with the Jets' organization and holds several Manitoba Moose records. (Fred Greenslade / The Canadian Press files)

“It was an MCL (knee) sprain. I got ran over in Ottawa. I actually got lucky it wasn’t worse than what it is,” Comrie said of the Nov. 16 collision with Senators winger Mathieu Joseph. “It could have been really bad. I got hit kind of awkwardly. Just an unfortunate play, guy going hard to the net.”

Comrie spent the next two months on the shelf, followed by a three-game conditioning assignment in the American Hockey League. He was finally cleared to return to action this week, activated just in time to start Tuesday’s game against the Seattle Kraken. He was beaten four times on 22 shots in a 4-3 loss, dropping his overall record to 4-8-0 with a 3.67 goals against average (GAA) and .883 save percentage.

“Couldn’t get the win, but it was nice to get back in there for the first time in a while,” said Comrie.

It’s not exactly clear when his next start might be, or how many there might be in the second half of the year. Buffalo has a unique three-goalie situation, with veteran Craig Anderson and rookie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen also on the active roster and dividing the workload. Luukkonen, 23, who faced the Jets Thursday night, blossomed after Comrie got hurt and has now played himself into the equation.

“It’s very different right now, just coming back, so I’ve got to work my way back into it,” Comrie said. “I can’t really know how it’s going to be going forward. That just started this week, really.”

Anderson, a 41-year-old veteran in his 20th NHL season, said he’s been impressed by how Comrie has handled the adjustment, along with the challenges that have come his way.

“He’s been great with his work ethic and rehab to get himself back to where he needs to be. It’s just a matter of time before he gets back on that roll again like he was at the start of the year,” Anderson said.

Eric Comrie signed with Buffalo seeking a bigger opportunity than the one he would get as the understudy to Connor Hellebuyck (left) in Winnipeg. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)

The season certainly began with a bang, as Comrie won two of his first three outings, including consecutive games in Alberta where he stopped 86 of 91 shots against the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames.

“It was a great start. The whole team was playing really. We were healthy,” he said. “Then we ran into a little bit of injury trouble, and I got injured myself. So it’s been a little different since then.”

Comrie, a second-round draft pick of the Jets in 2013, appeared in 227 NHL and AHL games with the organization and holds several Manitoba Moose records. He got to watch his former team from the bench Thursday, serving as Luukkonen’s backup while Anderson was able to take the night off entirely.

“I saw them a little bit (Wednesday). I got to hang out with them and see them,” said Comrie, who met Mark Scheifele and Josh Morrissey for dinner. “They’re two of my closest friends. A lot of those guys on my team are close friends. There’s a lot of good guys in that group, just fun to be around. It was fun to be part of that group. I really do miss them a lot.”

Comrie was asked if he picked up the tab, just like former Jets forward Andrew Copp did earlier this week in Detroit.

“Well, Copper’s got a heck of a contract,” Comrie joked. “No, we played the credit card game. Actually, Scheif ended up losing, so he paid for dinner.”

Comrie met Mark Scheifele and Josh Morrissey for dinner on Wednesday in Buffalo. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)

Comrie really emerged last year, posting a 10-5-1 record and sparkling 2.58 GAA and .920 save percentage in 19 games with the Jets. Naturally, that had him thinking bigger, especially when he became an unrestricted free agent. He signed a two-year deal with the Sabres that pays him US$1.8 million anually. The Jets, with significant salary-cap concerns, then inked David Rittich to a one-year, US$900,00 contract.

“The door (with Winnipeg) was always open. I was really happy to go either way. Just this opportunity came about, and it was a really good opportunity. A really good chance,” said Comrie. “It’s a team on the rise right now, a team (where) I think a lot of players are going to want to be. They have a great coaching staff, a really good management group here and players here are fantastic guys. They’ve done things the right way here for a little while now. For myself, it’s exciting to be part of this growing process.”

Comrie has kept a close eye on the Jets and is thrilled to see them flying high these days.

“I know they love the new coach, they’ve been playing really well. Helle’s having a great year,” said Comrie. “That’s a really good team. Even last year it was a really good team, just unfortunate that things didn’t go the way they wanted to. But I’m really happy to see those guys doing really well this year.”

Comrie is hoping his new team, which entered play Thursday six points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, can follow a similar template to his old one. There’s no shortage of talent around here, from the sensational Rasmus Dahlin on the blue line to massive forward Tage Thompson, who has turned into one of the league’s best snipers.

Comrie’s old teammates are definitely still rooting for him.

Comrie currently has a record of 4-8-0 with a 3.67 goals against average and .883 save percentage. (Chris O’Meara / The Associated Press files)

“I’ve played with him since we were 14 years old probably, for the first time and all the way through every level. It’s nice to see him, happy he’s back and healthy now,” Morrissey said Thursday. “He’s got a great attitude. He’s got a ton of personality, a ton of energy, and a great outlook on life. He’s a great friend of mine, and certainly hoping now that he’s healthy he can get rolling again.”

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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