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This article was published 5/11/2021 (202 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
No Connor Hellebuyck? No problem, at least so far for the Winnipeg Jets.
Of all the developments through 10 games of this young NHL season, the emergence of the inexperienced backup has arguably been the most surprising. Don't look now, but Eric Comrie is a perfect 3-0-0 on the season with a stellar 1.95 goals-against-average GAA and 9.22 save-percentage following Friday's 17-save, 5-1 victory over Chicago.
This one was extra sweet, with future Hall of Famer Marc-Andre Fleury in the other net, a guy to whom the 26-year-old Comrie has always looked up.
"He was my brother (Mike Comrie's) teammate growing up, too, they played together in Pittsburgh so I got to watch him a lot in practice and he was kind of an idol of mine growing up," said Comrie.
"I got to see him up close, got to meet him, personally, when I was younger as well. He was always someone I looked up to and it was special to look across the ice and see him. It meant a lot to me. Reminiscing of some old memories, I wasn’t that young, I guess I was 15 when I met him, got a picture with him. It was pretty cool, I thought. Watched him in practice and he stopped every single puck in practice and he battles as hard as anybody and that’s a kind of a role model for me."
After being a spectator for the first six games of the season, Comrie has now started three of the last four. Business picked up for him this week when Hellebuyck's wife, Andrea, gave birth to their first child early Tuesday morning, causing him to miss that night's game against Dallas. After a day off Wednesday, the club's No. 1 netminder began feeling ill on Thursday. Although he's tested negative for COVID-19, protocols mean he can't be around the club until his symptoms clear.
And so Comrie was back in the crease Friday night, and there's a good chance he could see his first-ever back-to-back action tonight when the Jets host the New York Islanders. Assuming Hellebuyck still isn't available, Comrie likely gets the nod over Mikhail Berdin, who has no NHL experience yet on his resume.
Jets coach Paul Maurice said he has faith leaning heavily on Comrie, not only because of his body of work so far, but the previous history of carrying a heavy workload in the American Hockey League.
"This is a guy who has played three in a row. They’ve travelled and played back-to-back. He has, in recent memory, experience," said Maurice.
Comrie is perhaps the most popular guy in the room, the type of positive person teammates rally around. Opportunity came knocking this past summer when the Jets, in salary cap hell, couldn't afford to re-sign Laurent Brossoit, or any other big-name, big-money backup. And so the job went, pretty much by default, to a proven minor-league commodity whose handful of appearances at the NHL level didn't inspire a ton of confidence.
If Winnipeg had a weak spot, many argued, it was the masked man behind Hellebuyck. But that hasn't been the case out of the gate.
"Aside from his personality, having been around him you know what I’m talking about, it’s been his training camp from day one has looked like his games. That’s the big thing," said Maurice. "He’s been stopping pucks, solid, strong, and highly consistent in his practices. What we’re seeing in the games doesn’t look any different than the off days. He’s had a month and a half of being in front of a hockey team and playing exactly the way he’s been playing in the games."
As for all the outside noise, including plenty of critics and doubters?
"I don’t think for the most part players are as in tune to what is said about them, or thought about them, as you might think," said Maurice.
"For Eric, what we know about him from day one is this freakish consistency of personality. That after the second week you meet him you think, ‘That can’t be him, nobody is that nice,’ or ‘Nobody works that hard every day.’ A couple years after, you just go, ‘That’s just Eric Comrie.’ It doesn’t change his day. There is no manifestation of change that you say he’s a different guy now, now he’s trying, or now he’s buckling down, or now he’s pissed off. His strength, his gift, is his ability to mentally train and mentally perform the same way every day."
Comrie has earned the respect of the guys playing directly in front of him. Defenceman Brenden Dillon, who came over in an offseason trade with Washington, said you won't find an easier player to root for.
"I think the biggest thing for Coms is you talk to anybody, coaches, players, he’s one of the nicest, most hard-working guys every day," said Dillon.
"Seems like he’s got 1,000 shots and he’s still coming down to work with you at the end of practices and I think those are the guys you want to root for and play, not that you’re going to play harder, but you want success for those guys. And to see for him, he’s been with the organization for quite a few years now, he’s had a some little stops with other teams and he’s proud to be a Winnipeg Jet and you want to see success happen for those guys. For Coms, I think everyone is happy for him. He’s getting a great opportunity here with Helle out for a little bit, and I think you can hope he continues to build on it."
Jets defenceman Nate Schmidt says Comrie has quickly become one of his new favourite teammates, but perhaps not for reasons you'd expect.
"He shares my love for the Price is Right in the morning, which is fun," Schmidt said following Friday's morning skate. "He did win the Showcase Showdown bet today, so congrats to him."
"That's a good omen for (Friday) night," said Dillon.
It sure was.
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.