KENNEWICK — All the miles on the road and all the hours in the stands finally paid off for Tri-City Americans general manager Bob Tory.
The Americans on Thursday signed Eric Comrie, their 2010 first-round bantam draft pick, ending speculation that the talented goalie was headed to college.
"It's a big day for our franchise," Tory said. "Patience and diligence paid off. We gave up a high pick in the second round (to Vancouver) to move up to get him. Eric had a lot of options. (The University of) Denver was high on his radar screen, and both of his brothers (Mike and Paul) played NCAA. The family made sure Eric was comfortable with the decision and, for the most part, left it up to him. It's a step to another level, and we hope we can continue to attract top players to this team."
Comrie, a 15-year-old native of Edmonton, Alberta, resides in Newport Beach, Calif. He just finished a successful season with the L.A. Selects midget U16 team.
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"(The Americans') backtracking of goaltending really helped, with Carey Price, Olie Kolzig and even Drew Owsley, who's a great goalie," Comrie said. "The coaches are really nice, and the management is good."
And it doesn't hurt that Kolzig stops by now and again to work with the team's goaltenders.
"He was one of the best goalies in the NHL," Comrie said. "He's going to help me a lot. Hopefully he can help me achieve what I want to do in this game."
This past season, the 6-foot, 175-pound Comrie played in more than 50 games, including 19 with the Selects, for whom he was 16-2-0 with five shutouts, a 1.34 goals against average and a .940 save percentage.
"I thought I had a strong season," Comrie said. "My team played well."
Comrie was the starting goalie for Team Alberta at the U16 Canada Winter Games in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Team Alberta won the bronze medal with Comrie posting a 1.94 goals against average and a .927 save percentage, both tournament bests.
Comrie and his select teams also won the St. Albert AAA Bantam Tournament, Chicago Nike Bauer Tournament and the Silver Sticks Tournament in Ontario.
"Six years ago, there might have been a chance he wouldn't sign," Tory said. "Six years ago, I might not have drafted him. We've come a long way. We are a destination that players want to play here.
"When people talk about the top franchises in the CHL, the Tri-City Americans are mentioned."
Tory missed out on signing Jonathan Toews in 2004, and a few others along the way. Toews now is captain of the reigning Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
"When I arrived 10 years ago and got things going, we couldn't even get average players to come. It was a place no one really had any interest in playing at," Tory said. "It took four years to get the culture here, and a lot of people deserve the credit -- my scouting staff, Don Nachbaur, who I brought in here after a couple of tumultuous seasons, then Jim Hiller -- but most importantly, the players. It's the players who established the culture. Those are the guys who make it special."
Comrie looks forward to helping the Americans continue their success.
"We should have a strong team next year," Comrie said. "I'm going to come in and try to earn a spot, and keep it."
Owsley, a two-year starter for the Americans, has been impressed with what he has seen from Comrie.
"He's a really good goalie," he said. "I watched him in camp and a little (Thursday) morning. If I get a chance to mentor him a little bit now and maybe next year, I think that will be good for me and for him. I think he will keep the legacy going with the good goalies in Tri-City."
- Annie Fowler: 582-1574; firstname.lastname@example.org