ERIC Comrie’s short-term fate was sealed in late May when the Winnipeg Jets negotiated a deal to retain the services of backup goaltender Laurent Brossoit for the 2019-20 NHL season.
Comrie’s training camp is a preamble to a fifth-straight season tending the crease of the Manitoba Moose, an injury to either No.1 goalie Connor Hellebuyck or Brossoit notwithstanding or a scenario where he’s scooped up on waivers by another team.
But if the former American Hockey League all-star is rankled by his current ranking on the team’s pecking order of puckstoppers, he is showing it neither publicly nor otherwise.
"When you say to me, ‘It’s tough on (Comrie),’ I’m not disagreeing with that, but you never see it from that young man. If you could bottle an attitude, it would be his," Jets head coach Paul Maurice said Sunday afternoon, following Day 3 of training camp. "He’s upbeat, he’s positive.
"Goalies take longer... that’s not unusual for goaltenders to develop at a different age. I’m not saying even late or later, just at a different age. So, he’s waiting for that opportunity, but he’s also working while he’s waiting for that opportunity."
If the old adage about patience is true, Comrie might just be the most virtuous person ever associated with the Jets organization. Drafted in the second round (59th overall) of the 2013 NHL Draft, the Edmonton product completed a brilliant junior career with the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League in 2015 and was anointed as Manitoba’s main masked man that fall.
Since then, he’s watched Ondrej Pavelec hit the road and Hellebuyck — drafted in 2012 — earn the starters’ job, while Michael Hutchinson, Steve Mason and Brossoit all took turns riding shotgun.
Brossoit was so proficient last season — in 21 games he went 13-6-2 with a 2.52 goals-against average, a .925 save percentage and posted his first career shutout — that Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff made inking him to a one-year, $1,225,000 contract one of his first orders of off-season business.
The writing’s on the wall for Comrie, still considered a top prospect who many thought might have been packaged up to another team either at the February trade deadline or on draft day in June. He’s still here and remains just as committed to flexing his work ethic, self-improvement and professionalism as any other time in his career.
"At the end of the day, hockey’s just a game. Being a human being is about being a good person. I love this game, I play it with everything I have, but I pride myself on being a good person first," said Comrie, who began the summer as a restricted free agent before agreeing to a two-year contract a week before training camp.
The contract carries an average annual value of $700,000, and is a two-way deal for this year and a one-way deal in 2020-21. For the first time in his career, Comrie is no longer waiver exempt.
"For myself, this is about working as hard as I possibly can and get better. This is an NHL camp, you’re going to get better every single day when you’re facing the top shooters in the world. This is a really good hockey team and I’m just happy to be here facing these guys every single day," he said.
“I try and force things sometimes. I had a very good AHL career and finished good in every single category. I look at the guys who’ve come up from the AHL and I know I can play just as well as those, and I think it’s about letting it happen instead of trying to make it happen.” — Eric Comrie
Comrie is expected to play the entire game tonight as the Jets visit Edmonton to battle the Oilers in the first pre-season test for both Western Conference squads, while Mikhail Berdin will back him up. It’s formula that Moose head coach Pascal Vincent is expected to use this winter.
In a Moose jersey, Comrie has been sensational on some Manitoba teams that were anything but. In 183 career AHL contests, he has compiled a 77-83-20 record with eight shutouts, a 2.88 GAA, and .910 save percentage.
He made five NHL starts since the ‘16-17 campaign and the body of work earned mixed reviews — a 2-3-0 record with a 4.20 GAA and .870 S%.
Maurice said there are parts of Comrie game that need improvement, and the 6-1, 180-pound netminder concurs that he needs to get his game to another level — once again, with a patient approach.
"Calm down and let the game happen. I try and force things sometimes. I had a very good AHL career and finished good in every single category. I look at the guys who’ve come up from the AHL and I know I can play just as well as those, and I think it’s about letting it happen instead of trying to make it happen," he said.
He referenced the career path of Stanley Cup winner Jordan Binnington, who toiled with a couple of AHL teams for five years before getting back into the St. Louis Blues’ grand plans. The rest is history.
Comrie will likely need to wait a full year before he gets a legitimate opportunity to crack the Jets roster. By then, Brossoit might be vying for a No.1 job somewhere else.
"It’s about biding your time, you get better every single day and eventually if you do the work, it will take care of itself," said Comrie. "You can get better no matter where you are, and I think for myself it’s going down (to the Moose), if I go down, it’s working as hard as I can, getting better and better, and just trying to take every shot like it’s my last and just have fun doing it.
"That’s one thing I’m really going to work on this year, just really enjoy the moment. We’re playing a great game and I just love the game and just really enjoy it."
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).
Updated on Monday, September 16, 2019 at 2:19 PM CDT: Typo fixed.