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NHL debut behind him, Comrie focuses on working to return

 

Bakersfield Condors vs Manitoba Moose

With three seconds left, Eric Comrie could exhale for what seemed like the first time in two days.

The goaltender shot the puck to the corner of the rink at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, and did an uncharacteristic fist pump, his first NHL victory secure in his debut for the Winnipeg Jets, a nail-biting 5-4 triumph over the Blue Jackets on April 6.

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“The whole experience was unbelievable,” the LA Hockey Club graduate from Newport Beach said. “It was a lot of fun and a dream come true.”

Comrie got the call after a Manitoba Moose game in Winnipeg roughly 48 hours earlier at 11 p.m. on Tuesday night. After grabbing his gear and packing for a flight, he got about two hours of sleep before flying to Columbus to meet the Jets for practice Wednesday and Thursday’s game.

His first call was to his father, Bill, who rounded up as many friends and family as he could to make the trip East. Among those in attendance was Eric’s half-brother Mike, a veteran of 10 NHL seasons and, along with older brother Paul, a major influence on Eric.

“To have my dad (who also helped coach his youth teams with Rick Kelly, Sandy Gasseau and later, Louis Pacella) and my brother (Mike) there was special,” Eric said. “I remember watching Mike’s games and being so happy for him. It’s funny to see how the tables have turned. My family has always been my biggest supporters, and I’m so grateful for them.”

Comrie made 35 saves in the victory at Columbus, which also happened to be his 100th professional game.

“He was very, very good,” Jets coach Paul Maurice told the Jets official website. “The little things, rebound control, the number of quick shots that came to him that he got off into the corner and we didn’t have to fight for.

“A smaller goalie (6-foot-1) has to be really positionally sound to play in this league, and there were three or four that he got his shoulder or blocker on, and that’s all technique. He deserved to win based on the number of shots he faced and I’m happy for him.”

Comrie, a second-round pick (59th overall) in 2013, has been the Moose’s go-to net option, playing the fourth-most minutes in the American Hockey League this season. His 51 games, 19-26-2 record, 2.96 goals-against average, .906 save percentage and three shutouts all were career bests.

The call-up added more fuel to a fire that already burned hot.

“It’s pretty unbelievable when you know the team has faith in you and trust in you,” Comrie said. “Getting a taste of it gives me more motivation – I know it’s not that far away.”

Motivation has never been an issue for Comrie, who routinely hits the ice 15-20 minutes before practice to work with goalie coach Rick St. Croix and stays afterward to face as many shots as possible.

“There is nobody more committed,” said Kelly, now the senior V.P. of North American Player Development for 4sports & Entertainment. “He’s never drank anything but water, no soda, no alcohol, nothing. That shows you how tough it is to make it to the NHL even with all of that commitment.

“He has the same relentless, intense work ethic his dad does. And he’s a great kid – humble, honest and unassuming.”

Summer is far from a vacation for Comrie, whose drive to improve goes into overdrive.

“I’m a crazy guy in the offseason,” he said. “I’ll work out in the morning, then get a good skate in either with my goalie coach or at a pro skate in Los Angeles. Then I do some eye work – sports vision training has been big for me.

“After that, I attend a stretching class.”

Keep that up and it’s no stretch to envision him returning to the NHL.

Photo/Jonathan Kozub

— Chris Bayee