The ’12 Days of Christmas’ is a classic holiday song first published in its current form in 1908. In a nod to the classic carol, join The Hockey Writers as we count down the 12 Days of Hockeymas. Each day, we will provide you with a piece of hockey history as we eagerly await the start of the 2020-21 NHL season.
The Vancouver Canucks have employed many starting goaltenders over the years, including Richard Brodeur, Dan Cloutier, Roberto Luongo, and Jacob Markstrom. We all remember those names because they played the majority of the games, but none of them were in the cage for the entire season. Luongo came close in 2006-07 when he played 76 games, but even the most workaholic goaltender can’t play an entire 82-game season.
That’s why the backup goaltender position exists, to give the starter a rest or the team a boost when it is needed. The job is a thankless one, and probably the toughest in all of sport. Most of the time they have to sit for multiple games without a start and be ready to go at a moment’s notice.
So in the spirit of Christmas, let’s give some love to the most underrated job in the NHL by looking back at five backup goaltenders that you may have forgotten.
Andrew Raycroft played briefly for the Canucks during the 2009-10 season after stints with the Colorado Avalanche, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Boston Bruins. He was once a highly-touted rookie goaltender with the Bruins back in 2003-04 when he won the Calder Trophy with a sparkling 2.05 goals against average (GAA), .926 save percentage (SV%), and three shutouts, but fell on hard times after that.
Related: The Rise And Fall Of Andrew Raycroft
Raycroft was traded to the Maple Leafs in the now-infamous deal involving current Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask, and the rest as they say is history. Rask has become a top-three goaltender in the NHL, and he has since retired after a rather pedestrian career.
Nevertheless, Raycroft had a memorable stint with the Canucks, providing solid goaltending behind Luongo for 21 games. He started 14 of those and had his best season since his rookie campaign in Vancouver, posting a 2.42 GAA, .911 SV%, and a shutout. He even stuck it to his old team, the Maple Leafs by holding down the fort while the Sedins staged an epic comeback in the third period after his team was down 3-0.
Dany Sabourin was basically a fixture on the bench for most of the 2006-07 season behind a workhorse named Luongo. He started a grand total of seven games and performed mop-up duty for another two. You could say he was the definition of a backup goaltender.
Sabourin did have his moments during the season, including one monster performance against the Anaheim Ducks when he made 38 saves in a 3-2 victory. Though his biggest contribution probably came during the playoffs when he played the role of stop-gap when Luongo was taking care of business in the dressing room.
The Canucks were locked in a battle with the upstart Ducks in the second round of the 2007 playoffs when Luongo never appeared after the third period. No one, including general manager Dave Nonis, knew what had happened to the star netminder between periods, all everyone knew was that the rarely used Sabourin was in the crease, in an elimination game no less.
Luongo did eventually emerge from the dressing room, but Sabourin was forced to play 3:34 and make five saves before the next stop in play allowed him to get back into the net. It was probably the most nerve-racking 3:34 of his life. Nevertheless, he saved Luongo’s bacon when his stomach would not cooperate with him. The Canucks eventually lost the game and the series in double overtime, but we should still remember Sabourin’s three minutes of heroism, even if it didn’t end well.
Curtis Sanford used to be one of the biggest Canuck Killers there ever was. Over the course of his six-year NHL career, he had an insane 1.75 GAA and .945 SV% and always played like Martin Brodeur or Patrick Roy whenever he played against the Canucks. For my money, he was probably the most annoying backup goaltender in the NHL at the time.
That’s why I think every Canucks fan probably jumped for joy when he decided to play for the Canucks in 2007-08 rather than against them. He spent two seasons on the West Coast, and gave them some solid goaltending too, finishing with a 2.69 GAA, .903 SV%, and one shutout. He also had a personal three-game winning streak in 2008 where he only allowed five goals.
After three goaltenders who played backup to Luongo, let’s turn to the Dan Cloutier era for a minute. He wasn’t the workhorse Luongo was, but he still played the majority of the games when the West Coast Express was at its peak. Johan Hedberg aka The Moose was one of his partners during the 2003-04 season and was a very competent backup to the man they called Clouts.
Hedberg played like a starter sometimes, but after having coached Roy for so many seasons, head coach Marc Crawford was set on a number one and that was Cloutier. He played him more often than not, even when he probably shouldn’t have. I remember one instance against the St Louis Blues where Hedberg had posted a shutout, and despite the fact that Cloutier was struggling, he still went with him in the next game.
Hedberg proceeded to post another shutout two games later against the Columbus Blue Jackets, while Cloutier continued to struggle with a loss and a tie, which included the 9-2 debacle against the Avalanche where the Todd Bertuzzi-Steve Moore incident occurred.
So despite some questionable coaching on Crawford’s part, Hedberg was a very solid backup goaltender for the Canucks.
Some Canucks fans may remember Bob Essensa, the backup goaltender that essentially drove Felix Potvin out of town. During the 2000-01 season, they split the goaltending duties until Potvin was traded to the Los Angeles Kings after a season that saw him post a disappointing 3.08 GAA and .887 SV% in 35 games.
The 36-year-old Essensa was having a better season than Potvin, so fans and management believed that he was the better goaltender. Of course, like all goaltending controversies in Canucks history, it did not end well. Before the Luongo-Cory Schneider disaster, there was Potvin and Essensa.
Shortly after Potvin was traded, he helped the Kings to the playoffs, and the Canucks lost Markus Naslund and Andrew Cassels to injury. They needed an overtime goal by Harold Druken, against the aforementioned Potvin, to secure a spot. Essensa and Cloutier split four games in the playoffs and ended up getting swept by the powerhouse Avalanche which featured superstars Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Milan Hejduk, and Alex Tanguay.
Which forgotten Canucks backups do you remember? Let us know in the comments!
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Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.