Monday, September 19, 2011

Goalie Gamble in Tri-City

"Everyone told us that we couldn't win with a 16-year-old goalie and all he did was take us to the Memorial Cup."

That is a quote from Tri-City Americans GM Bob Tory from his September 3rd appearance on our show. On paper, the Americans are arguably as deep as any other team in the WHL and may have the best trio of overage players as well. But after trading away both 20-year-old starter Drew Owsley and solid prospect Chris Driedger, Tory is taking a huge risk putting most of his eggs in the very young basket of Eric Comrie.

Then again, Tory is no stranger to this scenario and it's paid off pretty well for him in the past.

Tri-City drafted Comrie in the 1st round of the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft 13th overall and actually traded up half a dozen spots to do so. The Californian played for the LA Selects and also represented Alberta at the 2011 Canada Games in Halifax where he posted tournament best stats with a 1.94 GAA and .927 SV%.

Still, goalies don't get taken in the opening round all that often but Tory his selection of Comrie was far from the first time and considering the results, maybe we should talk about this a bit more.

"I've actually done it twice [before]," Tory told us, "Dan Blackburn was the first goalie that I drafted in the first round back when I was with the Edmonton Ice and he played as a starter at 16. Then obviously Carey Price. Eric is of that stature and I'm sure he's going to become a very, very talented young goaltender."
There is no question that Comrie has the potential to be a star in the WHL and beyond but it's an obvious risk to bank so much on such a young player. At one point in our interview with Tory I asked if the trade, a necessity because of the Americans overage picture at the time, would leave the Americans worse because of the loss of experience between the pipes.

"That's still to be determined but I remember the situation in Cranbrook when we had Danny Blackburn at 16; everyone told us that we couldn't win with a 16-year-old goalie and all he did was take us to the Memorial Cup," Tory countered.
The Kootenay Ice won the Memorial Cup in 2002 but it was in 2000 that the team made their first appearance at the marquee CHL event. By 2001-2002, Blackburn was stopping pucks at Madison Square Garden for the New York Rangers.

The decision to ride a rookie paid off for the Ice but it was certainly up for debate back then as well.
"I remember telling Ed Chynoweth at the time that there are two ways to look at it," Tory told us, "You can bring in another goalie and split the time and there's no guarantees or you play the young guy and develop him and how good will he then be at 17 or 18 or 19 because of that experience?"

Blackburn ended up being drafted 10th overall in 2001 and was in the NHL 3 months later, never to see major junior hockey again.

Carey Price has enjoyed even more success having captured a CHL Goalie of the Year, world junior gold, an AHL title and playoff MVP plus recognition on the NHL's All-Rookie Team in 2008. Price, a 5th overall pick in 2005, played much longer in the WHL than Blackburn did and is now considered one of the best netminders in the NHL.

So is Tory on to something here? He's definitely got the track record to back up his comparison of Comrie to both Price and Blackburn. As always, time will tell but maybe for now we should be giving him the benefit of the doubt.


- Comrie played 214 minutes in the pre-season and finished with a 3.36 GAA and .887 SV%. The other netminder in Tri-City, Ty Rimmer, played the exact same amount of minutes and posted a 1.96 GAA and .938 SV%.

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