BROSSARD, Que. – The good thing about naming Eric Comrie the starting goaltender for Canada’s pivotal game against USA New Year’s Eve is he won’t have to harken back very far to recall the biggest game of his life.
“Probably my first World Junior game against Germany a couple of days ago,” Comrie said when asked about the biggest stage upon which he has ever played. “I’m just going to get ready for the next one.”
That next one came as something of a surprise to many when Canadian coach Benoit Groulx named Comrie, who has just one 17-save shutout over Germany under his belt at this level, as the starter for Canada’s game against USA that will decide first place in Group A. Groulx went to great pains to claim that doesn’t mean Comrie has been anointed the No. 1 goalie, but it’s impossible to fathom Groulx would put his backup into such an important game.
Give Groulx credit for having a large set of stones because he’s opened himself up to a world of criticism. In the wake of the announcement, there was no shortage of grumbling that perhaps the coach had outsmarted himself on this one. But it’s clear Groulx believes Comrie is the best choice for the game, otherwise he would not have left Zach Fucale, a Montreal native and prospect for the Canadiens, on the bench for the game. Lord knows, Canadiens fans here don’t need another reason not to come to Canada’s game. The outrageous ticket prices are reason enough for thousands and thousands to stay away from Canada’s first three games of the tournament.
“We have two solid goalies we believe in,” Groulx said, “and we think that Eric Comrie deserves another start, simple as that. There’s no reason why Eric Comrie would not have another start with us. He has been very good. They’ve both been very good and they both deserve to play.”
So now Comrie enters the fray as Canada’s hope to lead his country to a gold medal. If Comrie has a strong game against USA, it would only be reasonable to assume that he would be the man for the medal round, despite the fact Fucale has a Memorial Cup championship in his resume and was a member of Canada’s team in the 2014 WJC. There is healthy competition between the two, but only one of them can play and one of them is bound to be disappointed.
One thing you won’t see, Comrie said, is either one of him or Fucale making a controversy of it.
“That’s why your teammates,” Comrie said. “Anyone who has ever played a team sport understands the dynamics of it and how close you get. If you want to win a gold medal, you’re a family. If you don’t become a family and become tight, you’re never going to succeed.”
It’s kind of ironic that Groulx went with Comrie for the game against the Americans. Comrie, the half-brother of former NHLers Mike and Paul Comrie, was born in Edmonton, but spent much of his youth in the Los Angeles area and, in fact, played much of his minor hockey for the L.A. Selects for four years before going to play for the Tri-City Americans, an U.S. based team in the Western League, as a 16-year-old in 2011-12. In fact, fellow Winnipeg Jets prospect Chase De Leo, a center for the American team who plays for the Portland Winterhawks, is one of Comrie’s best friends.
Comrie, whose father Bill is the founder of The Brick furniture empire, spent much of his youth growing up in a gated community near Anaheim, playing elite hockey in LA and spending time on a full-sized roller hockey rink on the property. But he is also a proud Canadian who identifies intimately with his Edmonton roots. A win against the Americans Wednesday night and a strong showing by Comrie will be a good opportunity for Comrie to show his Canadian pride. But like his teammates and his coach, Comrie is looking at the game as just another in the tournament. Sure it’s big, but if you’re peaking for the last round-robin game of the tournament, you’re sure to meet trouble in the playoffs and medal round.
“I just like any other game,” Comrie said. “I’m just going to go out there and do the thing I love most and that’s just playing hockey and having fun on the ice.”