Craig Anderson was 28 years old and on his fifth organization by the time he took the reigns as a starting NHL goaltender. He was waived three times during the 2005-06 season alone, then traded that summer.
His path was not unlike that of 27-year-old Eric Comriewho enters training camp seeking to establish himself as Anderson’s goalie partner in Buffalo after playing a career-high 19 games with Winnipeg last season.
“I think going through some adversity in his career – like I went through a bunch – it teaches you to fight through the restrictions, fight through the naysayers, and say, hey, just because you don’t have the repertoire, the history behind you, doesn’t mean you can’t do it,” Anderson said.
Anderson returns for his second season with the Sabers as the 33rd-winningest goaltender in NHL history, having established himself as a full-time starter during two seasons in Colorado prior to nearly a decade spent in Ottawa.
The Sabers targeted Comrie during the offseason because their scouts, analytics staff, and goalie coaches agreed in their assessment of him as a player ready to make a jump in his own career. Comrie was a second-round pick by the Jets in 2013 but spent years shifting to and from the AHL while Connor Hellebuyck established himself as a Vezina Trophy winner.
Comrie made stops in Detroit and New Jersey before he returned to Winnipeg and earned the job as Hellebuyck’s backup last season. His .920 save percentage ranked sixth in the NHL among goalies with at least 15 games played. His 8.78 goals saved above average at 5-on-5 ranked 11th.
The door is open for Comrie to exceed those 19 games played with the Sabres, although he stayed true to his workmanlike reputation when asked about the opportunity on Friday.
“There is a better opportunity here but I mean, there’s also a lot of goalies fighting for that spot here and there’s a lot of excellent goalies as well,” Comrie said. “So, for myself it’s just about going out there and taking care of what I can control, really.
“… It’s about going out there and earning it every single day. It doesn’t matter if it’s a practice day or a game day, you’ve got to make sure you get out there and take control of what you can, take advantage of the hard work.”
Video: TRAINING CAMP: Comrie
Anderson and Comrie have yet to share the ice – they’re placed in separate practice groups through the first two days of camp – but have already had conversations around the rink. Anderson, who is regarded as one of the leaders in the dressing room, said he will be willing to help Comrie along the way.
“The sky’s the limit with anyone if they’ve got the right mindset,” Anderson said. “So far, from my conversations with him, he seems to be in the right frame of mind. Let his skills out there go do the work.”
Here are more observations from Day 2 of training camp, with an emphasis on the goalies.
1. Anderson said during locker cleanout day in May that his first season with the Sabers had been one of the most fun of his career. He used the term “we” when describing the next steps for a young team that he believed showed promise moving forward.
He also admitted that retirement could be an option with his 41st birthday coming up that month. Sabers general manager Kevyn Adams informed Anderson that the team would like to have him back after the season, leaving the ball in Anderson’s court to make the best decision for him and his family.
Anderson weighed both options during the early part of the summer. He got into his offseason routine and asked himself if he was still enjoying the work that goes into being an NHL goaltender.
“That was still there at that time,” Anderson said. “That’s when we called Kevyn and had the conversation.”
2. Anderson credited his relationships with Adams and coach Don Granato as factors in his decision.
“The way that they treat their players was a big factor in it,” he said. “The respect factor is a two-way street. It’s always one thing for a player to respect the coach or fear the coach or the GM for that matter. It was a two-way street of respect, it was an open conversation, and I think that’s probably one of the main reasons why I seriously considered it was the respect factor that both Kevyn and Donny have for not just myself, but each and every individual in that dressing room.”
Video: TRAINING CAMP: Anderson
3. The Sabers have four goalies on NHL contracts at camp: Anderson, Comrie, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonenand Malcolm Subban.
Anderson serves a dual role of being available as a mentor not only for the goaltenders but for the team at large while also pushing to earn his own ice time.
“My job is to earn,” Anderson said. “Earn my spot, earn my ice time, make it difficult for these young guys to come in and take that ice. … What my conversation would be with the coaching staff is if I’m not earning it, don’t give it to me. If one of these young guys steps up and earns it, by all means give them the ball and run with it.”
4. Anderson still has personal motivations even entering his 20th NHL season.
“The next step for me is to continue to prove everybody wrong on why I’m still playing,” he said. “I think people a long time ago said I wasn’t good enough or, ‘He doesn’t play the right style to play for a long time.’
“You get all that negativity and you turn that into positive and say, ‘You know what, I’m going to prove everybody wrong.’ You go out there and compete because I love to compete, I love playing the game of hockey and to do it at the highest level, it takes commitment. It takes a certain level of mental attitude and that’s where now I can share that. It doesn’t have to be a goalie, it can be a player.”
5. One major difference in Anderson this season: He ditched his traditional, subdued white goalie pads for a bright blue and gold set.
Bauer originally sent Anderson a more traditional mockup, but his son disapproved.
“My 11-year-old goes, ‘That looks terrible,'” Anderson said.
So, led by his son and together with the rest of the family, they mocked up different options using the Bauer website. Craig, admittedly not the most artistic member of his family, was pleased with the final outcome.
“I think the black and red ones look pretty good too,” he said.
6. Luukkonen is the youngest of the Sabers goaltenders at 23 years old. Adams reiterated the organization’s belief in him during a phone call after the team signed Comrie in July, which was captured in the most recent episode of Buffalo Sabres: Embedded.
Adams explained the team is prioritizing volume of games for Luukkonen, who has battled injuries early in his career, rather than rushing him to the NHL.
“It’s more about starts,” Adams said. “It’s less about where he gets his minutes and more about him getting his minutes and I truly believe that because, you know, he’s had some challenges with injuries and just getting himself into that rhythm of having that foundation to build on.
“And what I’ve talked to him about is we believe in him, we believe in 100 percent. He’s going to be a very good National Hockey League goalie, but what we want to do is when he’s here, he’s ready. And not just here to be here, but he’s ready. And so we’re open. We’ll see how it shakes out.”
Video: Sabers Embedded | Free Agency 2022: Filling the Gaps
7. The next phase of training camp begins Saturday when the Sabers take the ice for an intrasquad scrimmage at 10 am inside LECOM Harborcenter.
After that, half the team will depart for the first preseason game on Sunday in Washington.
“It’s less about what I’m looking for other than compete and work and more about giving them a forum other than practice to get ready for games,” Granato said. “… I’ll sit back and enjoy it. The pressure’s not on right now.”