ANAHEIM – It doesn't take a lot for Eric Comrie to get excited.
Every interview the Winnipeg Jets goaltender does, whether it's after a good or not so great performance, is often done through his trademark smile. He's as thoughtful as he is animated, and it's his kind spirit that's endeared him to his teammates.
Still, you couldn't help but notice an extra jump in his step when he walked into the media room at the Honda Center to speak with reporters on Wednesday. After chatting for more than seven minutes, he stood there almost hoping for another question for a chance to share more thoughts.
When he finally realized there weren't any more coming, he walked from behind the microphone and started asking questions of his own. He chatted up the audience, interested in what some media member's week looked like in California, where the Jets are currently on a three-game swing.
Part of that extra zip likely has to do with Comrie, who backs up No. 1 goalie Connor Hellebuyck, making his first start of the season against the L.A. Kings at the Staples Center Thursday night. But it's also coming from a greater appreciation he has for the game; after years of experience playing at the professional level, Comrie has found more ways to enjoy himself and have fun as he settles into his first season as an NHL regular.
"I used to be the kind of guy that would go in my corner and not talk all day. But then I figured out that’s not who I am," Comrie said. "I enjoy talking, so I’m just going to be me."
He added: "Just go out there, have a little fun and show off. That’s all it is. It’s hockey. We’re having fun and we’re doing the thing that we want to do."
Comrie has yet to play since the pre-season and this trip was always being viewed as the one where he'd earn his first regular-season start. Jets head coach Paul Maurice wouldn't go as far as to suggest playing the Kings for a first game was by design, but he agreed the conditions around the decision work in Comrie's favour.
Not only has Comrie played the Kings before, with two of his eight career NHL starts coming against L.A., but he'll also get the kind of lead up to the game that isn't always afforded to backup goalies. Usually, backups are called upon to play the second of back-to-back games, meaning adjusting from a late-night flight and without a morning skate to work out any issues before puck drop.
With the Jets having a day between games, and a short bus ride from Anaheim to L.A., Comrie will get a good night's rest and get the morning skate to prepare.
"A rarity, right? We don’t have enough back-to-backs to say he’s playing all back-to-backs and that’s his season, so there are going to be games like this," Maurice said. "You know, it really goes off Connor (Hellebuyck), so much. (Shot) volume and we monitor all different kind of parameters for his health, his workload. We were looking for a point.
"You know when you got past Game 5, you were going to be looking for one soon. He had a lot of work (Tuesday) night and then there’s going to come a point in time where four days off between games for Connor is perfect. Not yet. Right now, it’s two and three. He doesn’t want to sit four days right now, he’s getting into that rhythm, so he’ll take three days off and play in San Jose and then we’ve got two days and so he can get right back into that rhythm."
All of that doesn't matter to Comrie, who will be in search of his first win since posting a 5-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres as a member of the New Jersey Devils. Whether by design or not, he values the chance to be in top form when he takes the ice Thursday.
"That’s kind of the backup’s role: be ready at any time. But it’s also really fun to be able to go out there and really be prepared, having a full skate the day before and then a pre-game skate," Comrie said. "Going through your pre-game routine and not having anything messed up is going to be a huge thing for me. I’m just excited to go out there and give it all I got and have a lot of fun out there."
Much has been made of Comrie's ability to earn wins at the NHL level. While he excelled in the American Hockey League, that success hasn't exactly translated to the next level. He's 3-5-0 over his career, with a 4.08 goals-against average and a .873 save percentage.
In today's NHL, you often need two solid options in net. The Jets got that from Laurent Brossoit the past three years, but with Brossoit too expensive to re-sign as Winnipeg flirts dangerously close to the league's salary cap ceiling, a decision was made to ink Comrie to the league minimum of US$750,000.
It can be argued that Comrie hasn't had a real shot at the NHL level and at just 26 years old he's just entering his prime. He also has the advantage of being solidified as the Jets' No. 2, though he understands a lot can change in this business.
"You feel a little bit more stable, for sure. But you’re also still grinding every single day to maintain a spot. Because you have to get the job done, or else they’re going to find a guy to replace you," Comrie said. "So, that’s my thing to do. I have to go out there every single day to earn my spot and earn my role. It doesn’t matter if I’m a call-up or if I’m with the team. I’m going to go out there and earn my job every single day. I have to perform. I know that and I understand that. I’m just going to give the best I have and enjoy every single moment."
In two games against the Kings over his career, Comrie is 1-1, allowing five goals on 49 shots. That familiarity should help, though he knows the challenge ahead of him won't be easy.
"They’re a forecheck team. They’re going to get in there hard," he said. "You know what they’re going to do. They’re at home and they’re going to play a hard, heavy game and that’s just what they’re going to be doing."
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.