Sports

WORLD JUNIOR

Canada's Comrie gets call in net against Americans

By Terry Koshan, Toronto Sun

Canadian goaltender Eric Comrie follows plays during world junior action against Germany December 27, 2014 at the Bell Centre in Montreal. (JOHANY JUTRAS/QMI Agency)

Canadian goaltender Eric Comrie follows plays during world junior action against Germany December 27, 2014 at the Bell Centre in Montreal. (JOHANY JUTRAS/QMI Agency)

BROSSARD, QUE. - 

Funny thing about the idea that Eric Comrie is a big-game goaltender.

That’s not something you would find on his hockey resume.

The teen tabbed by Canada coach Benoit Groulx to tend the net in the biggest game of the 2015 World Junior Championship has one more Western Hockey League playoff victory than most of you reading this.

Seriously, Eric, what do you think is the biggest stage you have played on?

“Probably my first world junior game against Germany, that would probably be it,” Comrie said after practice on Tuesday at the Montreal Canadiens’ suburban facility.

“Couple days ago. I’m really excited for the next one.”

The next one, as Groulx announced, will be Canada’s match against the U.S. on New Year’s Eve at the Bell Centre. The winner will finish atop Group A and theoretically draw an easier opponent in the quarterfinals on Friday at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

That Zach Fucale has two wins in the tournament, hails from nearby Rosemere and is a Canadiens prospect? Bah humbug.

“We built a team and we have 22 guys and the team is way more important than (the fact) the game is in Montreal and Zach is from Montreal and all that,” Groulx said.

“We think Eric deserved another start, simple as that. They both deserve to play.”

In that sense, no argument here. Both have posted a shutout in the past few days, and Fucale was solid against Finland on Monday, making 27 saves in Canada’s 4-1 win.

Yet we can’t shake this little feeling that Groulx might be over-thinking somewhat.

Yes, Comrie has put up better numbers this season with Tri-City than Fucale has with Halifax (he has since been traded to Quebec). But there has been little to differentiate between them since camp started. And you would think Fucale would be motivated that much more to perform well in such a crucial game in the arena where he one day hopes to earn a National Hockey League paycheque.

In August 2012, Comrie backed up Fucale in the Ivan Hlinka Memorial when Canada won gold. While Fucale was helping Halifax win the Memorial Cup in 2013, Comrie was recovering from surgery to both hips.

A year ago, Fucale became the starter for the Canadian junior team in Malmo, Sweden. Canada finished fourth, but Fucale brought poise to the crease that had been missing in previous tournaments.

Point is, Fucale has the big-game experience that Comrie, a Winnipeg Jets prospect, craves.

Having said as much, it’s rare for Canada to have a goaltending duo in the world junior in which there is no clear No. 1 and no clear backup.

When Groulx says it is possible that Fucale could start in the quarterfinal, as he mentioned on Tuesday, there is no reason not to believe him.

Groulx was asked if it had been the plan at the tournament’s outset to alternate the goalies.

“No,” Groulx said. “We decided to start with Zach only because he was there last year, and then we (as a staff) were talking about (the next step) every day.

“We are going one game at a time, and we really feel good about both.”

It makes no difference to the players which guy will be in the crease.

“We are confident with whoever is in the net,” captain Curtis Lazar said. “Zach did his job (Monday) night. Regardless, it does not change our mindset at all.

“So much is made of the world junior and is Canada’s goaltending a problem (in the past). That’s not really the case. You can’t put it all on the goalie.”

How will Comrie prepare for the biggest game of his junior career? The answer probably won’t come as a surprise.

“Just like any other game,” Comrie said. “It’s another game of hockey at the end of the day. I’m going go to out there and do what I love most. I’m just excited to make sure I go out and have a fun time.”

JETS CONNECTION

Perhaps no Canadian player will be as happy to see Eric Comrie between the pipes on Wednesday as defenceman Josh Morrissey.

“We have grown up together in the Hockey Canada Program of Excellence, we’re both draft picks of the Winnipeg Jets and we’re very good friends,” Morrissey said.

“I’m really excited for him.”

The two lived together last spring in St. John’s, Nfld., when they were summoned to play for the Jets’ American Hockey League affiliate following the end of their respective junior seasons. On days off, the two would hit different restaurants and try to see as much of the city and the surrounding area as possible.

“We really bonded there,” Morrissey said. “It was a lot of fun from a hockey experience, but also from a personal experience.”

When Comrie had 17 saves in a 4-0 shutout against Germany on Saturday, Morrissey scooped up the puck and handed it to his pal.

“If there is another shutout (against the United States), I will try to get it for him again,” Morrissey said. “It’s special moment, especially in the world junior tournament. It doesn’t happen often.”


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