VANCOUVER – The heir apparent to the Vancouver Canucks’ backup goaltender job was not lacking humour Friday.
But Eddie Lack’s happy-go-lucky demeanour contrasted with his long recovery from a major hip injury. The 25-year-old Norrtalje, Sweden native took part in his first meaningful on-ice workouts since being sidelined last November with a torn labrum that required surgery.
“First of all, it was just like a huge relief to see that everything went well and everything was working,” he said. “Then it was just so much fun being back again. I missed the daily routine and seeing shots and being with the guys in the locker-room and everything.”
Lack took part in the Canucks’ inaugural scrimmage and practices at training camp. He has been ticketed as Vancouver’s next backup goalie since the Canucks voiced plans to move Roberto Luongo in the spring of 2012. Even though Cory Schneider was moved to the New Jersey Devils instead, Lack was tagged for the No. 2 role.
But Lack’s future has been in question since he underwent surgery, which also involved the shaving of the wonky hip. He was hurt while playing for Vancouver’s former AHL affiliate in Chicago during his third season as a Canucks farmhand.
But even with his personal ordeal and the importance of ensuring that Luongo has good support, Lack’s desire to get to the NHL is trumping the pressure of the situation.
“I always put the most pressure on myself, and I want to play as soon as possible,” he said. “For the past two and a half years of my life, I’ve been waiting to step into the backup role here and just support Roberto.”
Lack is a prime example of goaltending prospects who travel a long and winding road as they attempt to reach the NHL. Never drafted, he signed as a free agent with Vancouver in 2010 and commenced the North American segment of his pro career with the Canucks’ former farm club in Manitoba, which was displaced by the revival of the Winnipeg Jets following the sale and relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers.
Last season, he posted a 7-4-1 record, 3.00 goals-against average and one shutout with the Chicago Wolves before his season ended early. Altogether, Lack has 10 shutouts over three AHL seasons with the last one limited to 13 games.
He also has six seasons worth of junior and pro experience with Swedish organizations Djurgarden, Leksands and Brynas, compiling goose eggs.
If he can regain his form in game action and handle the jump to the NHL, the Canucks could be well served following Schneider’s departure. Lack impressed in a workout and morning scrimmage and appears to have the upper glove hand on the only other backup candidate who has toiled in the Canucks organization. Joe Cannata, a 23-year-old Wakefield, Mass., native, spent his first full pro season with Chicago of the AHL and Kalamazoo of the ECHL.
But Cannata, who signed with the Canucks as a free agent in the spring of 2012 after four seasons at Merrimack College, has only toiled in only 22 regular-season games and 10 post-season games as a pro.
Swedish compatriot Joacim Eriksson, 22, who signed as a free agent this summer, also hopes to push for the backup job. Lack and Eriksson, who appears to need development in the minors, have waged a friendly rivalry.
“When we’re on the ice, we’re always trying to beat the other guy,” he said. “But off the ice, we’re having dinner together every night and just talking about a lot of stuff and having fun together.”
Lack has also had a good time exchanging comments with Luongo on Twitter in the past. But the backup hopeful plans to be careful on line after new coach John Tortorella told reporters that Twitter was “nothing but trouble.”
“He kind of had a talk with the whole team about it, too,” said Lack. “I’m just going to have to wait and see if Roberto throws the first stone—and then maybe I’ll follow.”
While looking for Luongo’s lead on Twitter, Lack will also try to follow the veteran’s example on the ice.
“He’s been in this league for 10 years now, and he’s proven himself to be one of the best in the league,” said Lack. “So I’m just trying to look at him and trying to learn as much as possible and trying to win the backup job.”
Mathieu Corbeil, a 21-year-old Montreal native, who is signed to a minor-league contract with Vancouver’s new farm team in Utica, N.Y., is the other goaltender in camp. The second-year pro played just 21 games with Missouri of the CHL as a rookie.
Although Lack’s three seasons of pro experience appear to give him an edge over the other candidates, Tortorella said he still needs to figure out the backup goaltending situation.
“In this situation, I know Roberto’s going to be our No. 1 guy,” said Tortorella. “I’m not sure where we are with our backup yet. We’ll formulate something as we break camp and see what we have.”
Notes_Lack’s father Jan, a carpenter, watches each of his son’s games in the early morning hours back in Sweden, offers feedback before catching a nap, and then goes to work.…Captain Henrik Sedin welcomed Tortorella’s 45-minute practices, saying it’s hard to stay focused in longer sessions.…Tortorella said Friday’s scrimmage was okay, but he wants to see more intensity in coming days.