One of the biggest question marks this season for a Winnipeg Jets team many believe will challenge for the Stanley Cup is the backup goaltending situation. Much ink has been spilled over second-stringer Eric Comrie’s inexperience and lack of NHL success thus far in his career.
After Connor Hellebuyck made a half-dozen starts in a row to start the 2021-22 campaign, Comrie finally took to the crease Tuesday in Los Angeles as the Jets faced the Kings in the second game of their three-game California road trip.
One game will not assuage concerns much, but his first appearance of the season was encouraging.
Comrie Sturdy at the STAPLES Center
In his first NHL start since Jan. 31, 2021 — as part of the New Jersey Devils organization — and 10th-overall NHL appearance, the 26-year-old turned away 30 shots in a 3-2 victory and made many solid saves.
He did not look overly active in his crease and his rebound control was mostly good. He ate up a lot of pucks with his chest, which came from being positionally sound and square to the shooter. When things did break down a little for him, he was able to recover in time.
Most importantly, the mental side of his game seemed to be in check. This author, in watching Comrie dozens of times a year as a member of the Manitoba Moose since he was drafted in 2013, noted how often Comrie would get rattled after allowing a goal and allow another shortly after.
Comrie Helped Jets Weather Kings’ Pushback in Second
That was not so on Thursday night for Comrie, who worked with a sports psychologist this past summer. Like a staple, Comrie helped hold the Jets together in the second period, when the Kings had grabbed the momentum and were pushing hard.
After allowing his second goal of the game — to Adrian Kempe 1:41 into the second, which came off a failed clearing attempt and put the Kings in the lead — Comrie locked things down. He stopped every other shot he faced that period — 15 out of 16, all told — even as the Jets were not particularly good in their own end.
Kempe’s goal would be the last puck past Comrie on the night. The Jets, entering the third period down only one thanks to their goalie, got the game-tying goal from Andrew Copp and the game-winner from Pierre-Luc Dubois to extend their winning streak to four and point streak to five.
“A Lot of Hard Work Went into That,” Says Comrie
Holding court with reporters post-game, Comrie was insightful (if not easy on his teammates.)
“I felt good, I felt good. I mean, the team was awesome tonight. They played unbelievable. They were battling really hard and made it really easy for myself,” Comrie said. “They did a really good job of clearing guys. I don’t think there was one deflection tonight at all. They let me see everything and it makes a big difference. For myself, I felt good. A lot of hard work went into that and a lot of preparation, so I’m just going to keep building on that and keep hoping for more success.”
The win was that much sweeter for Comrie as he had a lot of people he cared about in attendance cheering him on, as he grew up in nearby Newport Beach.
“Let’s just say I had a lot of tickets in the building tonight, so I wasn’t getting paid for this game,” Comrie joked. “Played for the love of the game tonight,” he laughed, before rattling off a huge list of family and friends who came to see him play.
Comrie Easy to Root For, But Needs to Prove Himself
Comrie is a sunny and pleasant individual who has a good work ethic and seems to truly enjoy what he does.
The Winnipeg Free Press’ Jason Bell noted recently that “every interview the Winnipeg Jets goaltender does, whether it’s after a good or not so great performance, is often done through his trademark smile. He’s as thoughtful as he is animated, and it’s his kind spirit that’s endeared him to his teammates.”
Bell noted that Comrie is often the first one on the ice and the last one off during practices. He also noted his gregarious nature — after fielding questions Wednesday about his impending start, he began to ask the journalists questions from the podium about their trips. (From ‘Exuberant Comrie ready for first action of the season,’ Winnipeg Free Press, Oct. 27, 2021.)
It’s true that head Coach Paul Maurice set Comrie up for success — it was not the tail-end of a back-to-back that backups usually get, meaning he got a morning skate and his defenders weren’t tired in front of him. Comrie also had familiarity with the Kings as he started against them twice prior (his last regular season win with the Jets’ organization was March 20th, 2018, also against the Kings.) But that’s what coaches are supposed to do — set their players up for success.
Comrie is the type of guy who is easy to root for. But as The Athletic’s Murat Ates put it, skepticism in his ability to provide adequate backup services is completely warranted until he proves himself over a larger body of work.
Comrie made it clear postgame he is going to keep working on his processes to prove he’s finally arrived. “At the end of the day it’s the goalie’s job to get wins for his team and that’s the way I’m going to look at it,” he said. “It’s funny, even though my job is to get the wins, I’m going to focus on the process of getting that win and whatever the outcome is, the outcome is…”
“I had my little mantras, my little sayings tonight that I just made sure that was my focus all night long. I didn’t let myself get distracted about what the score was, how much time was left in the game, it was the same thing no matter what was going on. That’s just the way I played,” he continued.
It’s unknown when Comrie’s next start will be as Hellebuyck is a known workhorse. But if he can keep performing like he did Thursday when given an opportunity, he will eventually gain the organization’s and fans’ trust.
Declan Schroeder is a 27-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.