Eddie Lack’s nickname, splashed all over the chin of his mask and a product of the legs under a long, lean 6-foot-5 frame, is simply and fittingly the Stork.
And while the unheralded Canucks prospect is destined to make his deliveries for the Manitoba Moose in the American Hockey League this season, Lack has been the biggest surprise at Canucks training camp. New goaltending coach Roland Melanson talks confidently about the organization having found another legitimate NHL goaltender behind Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider.
That is welcome news given the need to eventually move Schneider from behind Luongo’s 12-year contract, and a pleasant surprise given Lack was signed this summer as a 22-year-old undrafted free agent who has played in Sweden’s second division before moving up to the Elite League as a backup to Florida super-prospect Jacob Markstrom last year.
None of which is the most remarkable part of Lack’s unlikely ascension towards NHL employment – that comes in the fact the gangly Swede didn’t start to use his size properly until arriving at Brynäs IF Gävle behind Markstrom just over one year ago.
“The first year that I really learned to use my size to my advantage probably was last year I think,” Lack told inGoal Magazine of his work with Brynäs goalie coach Pekka Alcén last season.
“When I was going to Brynas my first year they scouted me and I talked to him the first time and he said ‘yeah, you are 6-foot-5 but you play like you are 5-foot-3 and we’ve got to change that.’ Last year he taught me a lot to play big and I try to use that every day now.”
Lack’s story doesn’t sound too much different from the one told by fellow Swede Henrik Karlsson, who has locked up the backup job in Calgary despite not having any truly technical goalie coaching until five years ago. Lack said he’s been playing against Karlsson for the last “four or five years,” but that’s not to totally dismiss the coaching that he had before Brynäs last season.
A lot of the other technical foundation was already in place. In fact, when the Canucks quietly signed Lack way back in early April, inGoal reached out to fellow Leksands native and long time NHL backup Johan Hedberg in search of a scouting report on a goaltender he’d skated with during the summer months.
“Very well schooled,” Hedberg wrote in an email response. “Balance and movement look great. Technically from what I’ve seen there’s no flaws.”
Watching the big Swede glide and slide crisply and fluidly (for a goalie that size) around the crease at the Canucks camp, it was clear he’d had more than a year of schooling on the basics of proper movements. Lack said he got his first goalie coach when he was “11 or 12” but it was only once a month and much of the instruction was, “old stuff that’s not in any more.” He got his first taste of the basics of modern butterfly at 17 – like Karlsson just five years ago.
Up until then, Lack’s biggest coach was his father, Jan, who is pictured wearing a Canucks hat in a nice tribute on the backplate of Lack’s mask, recognition for all those hours on the ice and for moving to Stockholm in 2004 so his son could play two years of professional junior with the famed Djurgarden franchise.
So what changed in Brynäs? Mostly Lack says it was his primary positioning.
“The way I prepared for the shot,” said Lack. “Before I was always on my way out before the shot and now I am there before the shot is coming, so I’m more square to rebounds and stuff like that. I’m playing much deeper than a couple of years ago. I was just out way too long and waiting for it before that.”
It’s a little surprising Lack didn’t learn to play a more conservative game during his one season as the backup to future Hall of Fame goalie Ed Belfour in Leksands in 2007-08. Belfour was a true student of the position and adjusted his style and technique significantly over his career, but while Lack said he tried to pick things up in games, Belfour wasn’t on the ice at practice often enough.
“It was really nice being with one of the biggest stars ever,” Lack said. “He taught me a lot behind the net and playing the puck and stuff like that. I tried to watch him but he played so much games and didn’t practice that much either.”
Lack has continued to work with Melanson to refine his footwork and, like Luongo and Schneider, is adjusting to the Canucks’ new goalie coach’s philosophy of always having a little blue ice in front of your skates. Lack was great in the prospects camp, very good in an early exhibition loss in Calgary and somewhat helpless in a predictable 6-2 loss in San Jose that featured almost no Canucks regulars and almost all the Sharks top players. But perhaps most impressive has been his willingness to work hard and soak up the instruction of Melanson.
Add in a great glove hand that is equally adept and picking pucks out of the air as smothering them against the chest and even high shoulder on body saves (like Karlsson, the benefit of less coaching at an early age was increased reliance on – and development of – instinctual reflexes), and Lack has a bright future.
“We work a lot of stuff between the posts and coverage there. I haven’t worked a lot of that before so it’s new stuff for me, but I’m learning pretty fast,“ Lack said, still smiling after a tough 30-minute session with Melanson that followed a practice and focused on footwork and one-pad down, or VH, technique.
The footwork and movement drills featured a series of progressively complex crease movement patterns, each followed by a shot, with Lack asked to track and react to any ensuing rebounds. It was a gruelling session after a full practice, but Lack welcomed the work after an injury put him behind this summer.
“It’s really good for my cardio,” said Lack, who was hurt at summer development camp. “So I’ve been on ice for 3 weeks less than others and playing catch up.”
If Lack’s recent history in goal is any indication, that won’t be a problem.