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GLENDALE — Eric Comrie has had a few days to digest the toughest game of his otherwise impressive season. And the young goaltender admits he’s still having a hard time stomaching what happened.
Comrie was given the surprise start last Tuesday in Minnesota, with the Jets in desperate need of two points. But it quickly went south as he surrendered five goals on 28 shots, including a bizarre opening goal that deflected into the air, off his back and into the net.
“At the end of the day that’s hockey. You just have to rebound the best you can. Unfortunately for myself, I didn’t,” a candid Comrie said Saturday following his team’s morning skate in Arizona prior to hitting the ice against the Coyotes.
“(Jets goalie coach Wade Flaherty) said it’s gonna happen to you once in your career, it just happened to happen in that game. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way it went.”
Comrie has had a terrific campaign as the starter with the Manitoba Moose, who have been on a tear since Christmas and have gone from among the worst in the American Hockey League to currently holding down a playoff spot. He played a huge role in that, of course, going 23-16-2 with a 2.75 GAA and .916 SV%.
He was summoned up to the big club after Jets backup Laurent Brossoit suffered a lower-body injury in Vegas a couple weeks ago. And he was most excited about his first NHL start of the year, and just the fifth of his career.
It didn’t exactly go as planned in St. Paul. The loss was not only costly in the standings, but led to a well-documented players-only, closed-door meeting to air out some grievances and try to get back on track.
“It’s how you respond, and I didn’t really have the response I would have liked (after the fluky opening goal),” said Comrie, who was most upset about Minnesota’s third goal, near the end of the opening period, in which he was beaten from an odd angle by Victor Rask. The Jets noticeably sagged after that one, showing few signs of life the rest of the game.
“It was a bad read by me. I thought maybe he was going to the slot. I kind of cheated on it and he beat me. That’s not something you’re used to at the AHL level. You can kind of read a play a little bit easier, guys kind of go with the read a little bit more,” he said.
The 23-year-old, now in his fourth pro season, said he’s much better-equipped to handle a rough night at the office these days. He is now 2-3-0 with a 4.20 GAA and .870 SV% in his five NHL starts, which have been spread over the past three years.
“I’ve had tough games before in the American League, I’ve had tough games before in the NHL, so I know how to deal with it. It’s another game you add to your experience,” said Comrie.
“(Flaherty) and I came out here, we worked hard, got better today, got better yesterday, and that’s the way I look at it, just getting better every single day and just taking that experience, learning from it and moving forward.”
It’s not clear exactly what the future holds for Comrie. Brossoit is close to a return and is expected to be ready for the start of the playoffs next week. The Moose currently have four games remaining, including their regular-season finale on Sunday at Bell MTS Place.
“Once again, when you get to this point it’s taking it day by day. That’s all I’m trying to do, take it day by day, try to get better today, get better tomorrow and see where I go from there,” said Comrie.
“You don’t know if the Jets could use three goalies in playoffs like they did last year, you don’t really know. So that’s why for a person in my position, just enjoy your time up and get better when you can.”
Nor is Comrie worrying about what the summer may bring, as he’s a pending restricted free agent who needs a new deal. His name has been linked in trade talks, with the Jets likely wanting to find a way to get current Moose starter Mikhail Berdin much more work at the AHL level. A fifth year with Comrie stuck on the farm seems unlikely.
Berdin was brilliant again Saturday, stopping all 26 shots he faced as the Moose beat Stockton 1-0. He is now 12-6-3 with a 2.12 GAA and .935 SV% in his rookie pro season. Manitoba is now tied for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central division with a week left in the AHL regular-season, and just two points out of third place with a game in hand.
“I think you just have to look up all the way to (the Moose) coaching staff. From where we started from to where we are now, we’re a different team. We play so well in front of our goalie now at the AHL level, it makes it so easier,” said Comrie.
“At the start of the year we were a good team but we lacked structure, just because we were a young team, all new players, very few returning players. We didn’t really understand the structure. But now that we’ve got it down, we play so well in front of goalies, it makes it so much easier for ourselves. After Christmas we really bought into what Pascal (Vincent) was saying. Our guys down there are really hungry for wins, and it’s really showing right now.”
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.