There’s a gift waiting for Eric Comrie at the end of training camp. It’s actually sat there with a fancy bow on top since the end of July.
But the 26-year-old goalie refuses to tear off the paper until Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice gives him the go-ahead, and that likely won't happen for another two weeks.
So, he continues to doggedly pursue the coveted prize like it's a million kilometres from his grasp.
"It’s still a tryout for me. It’s still me competing for a job," Comrie said Saturday, following Day 3 of the Jets on-ice training camp workouts at the Iceplex. "It’s not like they said, ‘Oh, congratulations! The job is yours.’ I’m not Connor Hellebuyck, guaranteed the No.1 spot. I’m coming in to earn a spot, I’m coming in to play the best I can in those (pre-season) games, and that’s what I’m going to do."
Comrie was anointed the backup to Hellebuyck the moment his new one-year, US$750,000 contract was announced to the world on July 27. Laurent Brossoit had already made it clear he was looking for a change, ultimately signing with the Vegas Golden Knights a day later.
"Eric's time has come," Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff declared at the time.
But Comrie, plucked by the Jets in the second round of the 2013 NHL Draft, refuses to take his obvious job security for the 2021-22 campaign for granted.
"For myself, I’m not looking at it that way. I’m looking at taking the same approach (as with) any other camp. It’s just about building every single day, getting better and better, taking it day by day. You can’t look too far into the future or else you stop worrying about your day and then it gets derailed from there," he said.
"I’ve been pretty successful in camp so far. I’m going to trust my off-season, I’m gonna trust what I’ve been doing, I’m going to believe in myself and I’m going to have some fun."
Comrie is expected to received a chunk of playing time Sunday night when the Jets host the Ottawa Senators in the first pre-season game for both squads. Game time is 7 p.m. (TSN3)
Maintaining the joy level hasn't been an issue for the affable Edmonton product, despite enduring a topsy-turvy stretch as a pro netminder the last two seasons. His rights were owned by the Arizona Coyotes, Detroit Red Wings and New Jersey Devils, however, each time he was set adrift the Jets towed him back in.
During the 2021 season, he enjoyed one victorious start with the Devils but was, otherwise, stored on the Jets' taxi squad, except for a successful 3-0-1 stretch with the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League.
Scribbling his name on a contract with Winnipeg was the key element to an altogether advantageous off-season.
"This is a special place for myself and I take a lot of pride in being here. This is the place I want to be and win. For myself, it’s the place I was drafted and it feels like home to me. I know the guys… these guys are my best friends. Josh Morrissey, Mark Scheifele, Connor Hellebuyck, the whole team are all my best friends, the best guys in hockey," Comrie said.
He took a more focused approach to his strength and conditioning, and started working with a sports psychologist.
"I had a really good summer. My strength coach we did a lot of stuff in the gym just getting stronger, faster, quicker. I hired a nutritionist this summer, hired a sports psychologist this summer to work on the mental side of the game, and that’s actually been really big for myself," said Comrie.
"I think it was honestly watching a lot of golf this summer and listening to those guys, and every single one of them has a sports psychologist. You don’t realize that they all use someone, they have someone to talk, they all use it during their pre-shot routine. I know golf’s a lot different than hockey but you can look at it the same way, in that it’s a mental game the same way goaltending is. You have to get into the right frame of mind every day because it’s going to give you the best opportunity."
The Jets will turn to Hellebuyck for about 75 per cent of the 82-game regular season, while handing Comrie about 20 assignments to protect the cage.
Winnipeg's bench boss has got a soft spot for the guy, and he's not alone. When Comrie's referenced by anyone in hockey, nary a discouraging word is uttered.
Maurice has confidence in him but noted there's an inherent requirement for results
"I’ve seen the exact same thing from Eric since the first day I met him. So, you get to know Eric and after a few hours, you’re thinking it’s not real. It can’t be that real. And then after two or three years, I’m just incredibly impressed by everything that he does. The way he approaches everything -- because he has not had anything handed to him," said Maurice. "So, he’s as good as he’s been in the first three days (of camp)… he’s been as good as I’ve seen him.
"If you’re pulling for a guy who has done everything right to have success, you’re pulling for this guy. He’s going to give himself the best chance and we have faith in that. He’s looked good. But he’s got to stop pucks. At the end of the day, you can be the best guy in the world or you can be the devil, you’ve got to stop pucks if you’re going to stay in the net and to fight, just to get into the league, that’s the bottom line."
Since 2014-2015, Comrie has appeared in just nine NHL games (3-5-0), registering a 4.07 goals-against average and a .873 save percentage. He has suited up for 207 games in the AHL during that span, owning a 90-92-21 record with 10 shutouts, a 2.82 GAA and a .911 save percentage.
He recognizes the time to demonstrate his prowess and preparedness is now.
"At the end of the day, they’re going to put the guy in who’s winning games and I understand that. I’m just going to go out there and do my thing and do the best I can. I can’t change anything," said Comrie. "I just have to be me and control what I can control, and have fun in the process. If I do that, I can achieve that."
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).