When you are 5 years old and your older brothers — who are playing college hockey — want someone to play goalie, you jump at the chance to hang with the cool kids.
For Eric Comrie, being used as a target by brothers Mike and Paul Comrie, has paid dividends over the years. The Tri-City Americans starting goalie is projected to go late in the first round or early in the second in Sunday’s NHL draft at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
“They needed someone to shoot on, so they stuck me in net,” Comrie said. “I was really young at the time, but ever since then, I wanted to be a goalie. One day Paul told me I’d never stop him. I stopped him that day and Mike and I celebrated.”
The first couple of years that Comrie played hockey, he used the goalie equipment provided by the team he played for. When he was 8, his parents bought him his first pair of pads and the rest is history.
“I just wanted to stop pucks,” Comrie said. “I love the pressure that comes with it. A goalie’s job is to win games. If I lose and play great, I’m still mad.”
According to NHL Central Scouting Service, goalie Zachary Fucale of the Memorial Cup champion Halifax Mooseheads is a projected top-20 pick for Sunday’s draft. Comrie is the second-rated North American goalie in the draft.
“What ever happens happens,” said Comrie, who left for New Jersey today. “It’s not the end all be all. It will be a fun time. I’ve worked as hard as I can to reach my goal of playing in the NHL.”
All seven rounds of the draft will be Sunday, unlike years past when the first round was one day and the next six the following day. The Colorado Avalanche have the first overall pick.
“It’s nice to do it all in one day,” Comrie said. “If you don’t get drafted the first day, you go home disappointed and have to wait and see what happens the next day.”
Also on the draft tracker is Americans forward Connor Rankin, who was 98th in the final CSS rankings.
“Every summer I train hard, draft or no draft,” said Rankin, who is projected to be a late-round pick. “With the draft this year, it gives me more motivation and more incentive to work harder.”
Tri-City defenseman Zach Yuen, who was taken in the fourth round in 2011 by the Winnipeg Jets, was not signed by the June deadline and re-entered the draft.
Whereas Comrie is headed to the draft, Rankin will be staying close to home in North Vancouver, British Columbia.
“This whole week, I’ve been stressing what I’m going to do all day,” Rankin said. “I’m not like Comrie, where you give it an hour and your name is called. I want to get my mind off it so I don’t stress.”
The 6-foot, 170-pound Comrie was in the midst of his first season as a starter for the Americans when he started to have pain in his hips. The pain started in November and continued to get worse.
Comrie was 20-14-1-2 in 37 starts last season, with a 2.62 goals-against average, a .915 save percentage, and two shutouts before he was shelved for the season Jan. 18.
Comrie had minor surgery on his left hip Feb. 5 in Vail, Colo., then had the right side done six days later.
Now, he’s better than ever. He attend three team camps (Toronto, Montreal and Chicago), then attended the eighth-annual Program of Excellence goaltending camp in Calgary.
“Some teams could be scared of the surgery, but I went to the Hockey Canada camp and I performed at a level I felt comfortable and at 100 percent,” Comrie said. “I’m excited to see where I go.”
Comrie took a few days of rest and relaxation last weekend, enjoying a bit of fishing with childhood friend and Portland Winterhawk Chase De Leo. Both are 1995-born players, but with a late birthday, De Leo will be eligible for the 2014 draft.
“We have played together since we were about 10 years old,” Comrie said. “We hang out all the time in the summer. The other day, I caught a barracuda (threw it back) and a halibut (just big enough to keep and eat). He caught more fish, but the ones I caught were bigger.”
Comrie and his family left today for New Jersey. He will be joined by parents Bill and Roxanne, brothers Mike, Paul and Ty, a brother-in-law and uncles. Once the draft is over, the men are headed to the Bahamas for a fishing trip.
“We usually take an annual fishing trip,” Comrie said. “We usually go salmon fishing, but this year we are going for bonefish.”
It will be the first trip to the draft for Mike and Paul Comrie.
“When they were drafted I was so young, but I know they didn’t go,” Comrie said. “I don’t know if they got a call or looked it up on the Internet.”
Mike Comrie, who played two seasons at the University of Michigan, was a third-round selection (91st overall) in the 1999 NHL draft by the Edmonton Oilers. He had a lengthy career in the NHL before a series of hip surgeries cut his career short.
Paul Comrie was a ninth-round (224th overall) pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1997. He played four full seasons at the University of Denver and a handful of games in the American Hockey League and NHL before concussion problems forced his retirement in 2000.
Rankin, who will be 19 in November, is a year older than most in this year’s draft class, but with a late birthday, he was pushed to the 1995 class.
“The extra year has really helped,” Rankin said. “In WHL, it takes one or two years to get experience. Playing with the players I’ve played with — (Brendan) Shinnimin, (Adam) Hughesman and (Justin) Feser — they’ve all influenced me and helped me to be a better player.”
The 6-foot, 195-pound Rankin finished third in team scoring last year with 58 points, but was second in goals with 32 behind Feser’s 44. He also had a plus-9 rating and 34 penalty minutes in 71 games.
“Honestly, my second half was better than first half,” said Rankin, who had 15 goals and 25 points at the Christmas break. “Hopefully that helps my rankings and a team notices the player I really am. I’d like to go to a team I can be effective for.”
Rankin’s best friend Tyler Kotel is visiting from Arizona, and Rankin hopes his friend can keep him distracted.
“He wanted to be here for the draft and I’m very happy he is here,” Rankin said. “I’m not sure what will happen. There have been plenty of good players — Shinnimin and Hughesman for example — who have gotten passed over.”