Jets Prospect Eric Comrie Ready For Next Challenge
For Eric Comrie, ending his junior career with a 66- save performance was not only a culmination of years of hard work with his coaches and teammates; it was also a launching pad into his first full pro season.
His fourth and final season with the Tri-City Americans may have been the toughest one yet for the 19-year-old Winnipeg Jets prospect.
The Americans were one of only three WHL teams to score fewer than 200 goals in the regular season, but they relied on the hot play of Comrie and his partner Evan Sarthou to achieve the seemingly impossible dream of making the playoffs.
“When you don’t score as much, it’s more pressure on the goalies, but that’s what we like,” Comrie said in an interview with InGoal Magazine. “I really enjoy that pressure and we thrived under that.”
It wasn’t an easy situation to thrive in, but both goalies managed to do just that.
Comrie would finish the year with a 20-19-1 record, 2.87 goals-against-average, and .914 save percentage. More-than-respectable numbers for any goaltender at the junior hockey level.
“You have to want that pressure, you have to want that excitement, and you want your team to depend on you because it drives you forward,” Comrie explained. “I always wanted to play on a team where you’re ‘the guy’ and you have to go out there and steal games for your team. I think it makes the game a lot more fun.”
World Junior Experience
The fun was just getting started in December, when he joined Team Canada for the World Junior Championship.
A crease battle would ensue with Quebec Remparts goalie and Montreal Canadiens prospect Zach Fucale, but their competition may not have been as intense as it was made out to be.
“Zach and I are like the same person in different bodies,” Comrie said with a laugh. “We get along so well and we had so much fun.
“It was unbelievable to have a connection like that with a guy. It was such a short tournament, so you aren’t really competing for a job. You were competing together to reach a common goal.”
Fucale would end up playing the majority of the games, but it was Comrie who would get to start the fabled New Year’s Eve game against Team USA. It was the perfect way to test the young netminder’s ability to play in a pressure-packed environment, in front of over 18,000 crazed Canadian hockey fans at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
“That was an experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Comrie recalled. “Playing in front of the crowd at the Bell Centre was incredible. You can’t describe the atmosphere for anyone that hasn’t been there. It was unbelievable to step on the ice for the first time. It was a dream come true.”
It turned out to be a test that Comrie would easily pass, as Team Canada would pull out an exciting 5-3 win, leading the way to a gold medal.
Great job boys not just the goalies but everyone has been awesome Thanks again for the great experience pic.twitter.com/yNlgSV22Sq
— Fred Brathwaite (@fbrat40) January 6, 2015
There were rumours of an injury slowing Comrie down around the time of the tournament, and he actually missed some time with Tri-City after the World Juniors concluded.
While he did admit that he was bothered a little bit, the injury wasn’t serious enough to hinder his play or keep him out of any games during the tournament.
“I had a bit of a problem, but it wasn’t too bad,” Comrie said. “I hurt it again right after the tournament, so I missed a bit of time, but it was very minor during the tournament.”
His health has been a topic of discussion since he underwent hip surgery in his draft year, with some believing that the surgery affected his draft position.
The Jets were more than pleased to take him in the second round at 59th overall, and the perceived gamble seems to be paying off as his hips have not given him any problems since having the surgery.
Comrie had what is called a “cam impingement” that many athletes suffer from, but if it’s caught early, doctors can actually shave down the bone in the hip joint to prevent any damage from occurring.
“I feel like my flexibility has increased since the surgery, and everything has gotten so much better and stronger,” Comrie said. “I’ve learned so much about awareness of my own body. It was actually a really exciting experience, to learn the biomechanics of things. I get to take that information moving forward.”
There was no damage to the cartilage in his hips, which was one of the main concerns. In Comrie’s case, it’s not something that should even be a factor in down the road. An increasing amount of goaltenders are having similar procedures done, and as long as it is caught early enough, it doesn’t cause any problems.
After the season with Tri-City concluded, Comrie was given the opportunity to join the St. John’s IceCaps, now the former AHL affiliate of the Winnipeg Jets.
He did the same thing last year, but struggled in the two games that he appeared in. It was admittedly an overwhelming experience for an 18-year-old that wasn’t sure what to expect.
He appeared in three games with St. John’s this year, but it was different. This time it looked like he belonged.
“This year I just came in, and I had been there before so I knew what to expect,” Comrie explained. “I knew what to do and I knew how to take care of myself, and I knew that I was going to be able to play. I went there expecting to play, and I was told that I was going to play. It was a lot of fun to go out there and have that chance.”
“I’m very fortunate to already have 5 games of pro experience under my belt. Not many young goalies can say that.”
He will likely be assigned to the AHL to start the season next year, and he learned some valuable lessons during his short time with St. John’s.
“I can take that experience to this summer, learn how to build myself stronger, and know what the competition is like moving into next season.”
The landscape of the Jets’ minor league system is changing next season, as St. John’s is now becoming the farm team for the Montreal Canadiens. The Jets have made an interesting move, and will now house their farm team in the same building that the NHL team plays in: The MTS Centre in downtown Winnipeg.
It offers an interesting scenario for the young goaltender, who could now get to play in front of the same fans that will be in the building when he makes his eventual NHL debut.
Working With Lyle Mast
The man behind ‘head trajectory‘ is Lyle Mast of Optimum Reaction Sports, and although his connection to current NHL goaltenders is starting to get attention, his training with Comrie could soon overshadow the rest of his work.
Mast took Comrie under his wing as the goalie coach for the Tri-City Americans, but their history dates back further than that. He has been working with Comrie for close to six years, and the young netminder has nothing but praise for his coach.
“He’s been unbelievable.” Comrie said with pride. “The stuff he’s been teaching me is pretty revolutionary. It’s going around the league now, everyone is getting knowledge about head trajectory and tracking the puck. It’s been something that he and I have been focusing on for almost six years now.”
The technique has been praised endlessly, but surprisingly, little is known publicly about how it was discovered and refined.
Part of the reason is because that it’s very difficult to explain without actually getting on the ice and physically showing people, or by looking at video.
“People always ask me to explain it, but it’s hard with words,” Comrie agreed. “It’s easier to just show them.”
Another important aspect of the head trajectory technique, like anything in goaltending, is the mental side of it.
“Tracking is more of a mindset than an actual technique,” Comrie explained. “You do it your own way, and not everyone is going to track the same way – it’s about the mindset.”
Even though he’s moving on with another chapter of his career and is looking forward to working with new coaches, Comrie plans on remaining close with Mast.
“It’s almost like a family relationship for him and I,” Comrie said. “He doesn’t even have to talk to me, he’ll just give me a look and I know exactly what I have to do.”
Comrie was given all of the tools to succeed at the junior level, and now he’s ready to take the next step with the Winnipeg Jets organization. With injury troubles a thing of the past and some pro experience under his belt, Comrie has his sights firmly set on rocketing up the depth chart.