#AHLOTB: Best friends through and through

by Chris White | AHL On The Beat Archive

When you are young and growing up, most of us can remember that one person you just click with. In your youth it doesn’t take much: it can be a show, a movie, a song or even a game that can create that special bond that has no limits.

In that moment, you think you will be always best friends with that person, with both of you living out your wildest dreams and most importantly doing that together.

As most people learn, staying close to one person can be a huge challenge, and not because you don’t want to be friends but because things change in life. People change: their interests, hobbies, where they live, schools, likes, dislikes, essentially everything.

That is, of course, unless you are Eric Comrie or Chase De Leo of the Manitoba Moose.

Still, the two had an interesting path of what brought them together.

Comrie grew up in a hockey family in Edmonton, Alta. His father Bill was a prospect for the Chicago Blackhawks and played his junior hockey with the Moose Jaw Canucks and Edmonton Oil Kings. Following the death of his own father, Bill made the difficult decision to give up his pro hockey aspirations and enter the family business. That path led him to found the Brick, one of Canada’s largest retailers of furniture, appliances and electronics.

Eric’s half-brothers Paul and Mike both played in the NHL.

Paul Comrie had a four-year collegiate career at the University of Denver and was eventually selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the ninth round of the 1997 NHL Entry Draft. He played two years of pro hockey with the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs and 15 games with the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers in the 1999-2000 season before retiring due to concussion issues.

Mike Comrie played 11 seasons in the NHL, totaling 589 games and scoring 365 points with Edmonton, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Ottawa, the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh. He was a third-round pick of the Oilers in 1999.

Eric was also teammates with his younger brother Ty the last two years with the Tri-City Americans of the WHL. Ty Comrie is now in his third year of junior hockey and is playing with the Vancouver Giants.

On the other end of the spectrum is Chase De Leo, who is from La Mirada, Calif. — far from a hockey hotbed, but things were changing in southern California after the arrival of Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings in the late 1980’s.

Growing up, De Leo’s family had a plumbing business and had a farm with plenty of animals around, including horses and pigs.

Chase was put into tee-ball at a young age, but his mother Janie felt the game didn’t lend enough excitement and decided to move him into roller hockey. De Leo started as a goalie before moving to forward, where he has played ever since.

Comrie’s and De Leo’s paths would cross as Comrie and family moved from Edmonton out to California when he was just 9 years old.

The two had a chance meeting that would start it all. De Leo was out for a skate by himself when Comrie showed up at the local rink. Not wanting to shoot at an empty net, De Leo wasted no time asking Comrie to join him on the ice and the two have been close from that day on.

Despite their different backgrounds, they bonded over the game of hockey. Plus it helps that one was a gifted forward with a great shot and one was a talented young netminder. They each made the other one better the more they played.

The two would eventually play together on the L.A. Selects team (now known as the Los Angeles Jr. Kings) that went on to win two national championships.

Together they traveled to Denver to look into playing college hockey before they each ultimately decided to play in the Western Hockey League.

They would be split up when they were drafted to the WHL, with Comrie heading to Tri-City and De Leo going to play with Portland. The two were division rivals playing three-and-a-half hours apart, and remained close while keeping healthy rivalry over the four seasons they played on opposing teams.

“Eric’s probably the most focused guy I have ever met,” said De Leo. “I don’t think he is on his phone three days before a game already getting ready for the game.

“After the game we would catch up for a little bit as much as we could in the hallway.”

The two had successful junior careers, with their two teams playing many times a year. De Leo was a star on a Portland team that had one of the most dominant runs in history, winning the WHL championship in 2013. Comrie quickly emerged as one of the top goaltending prospects while in Tri-City.

With an elite team in Portland, it was De Leo who had the upper hand on Comrie in those head-to-head battles.

How many times did De Leo score on Comrie?

“I’m going to say 15?” Comrie laughs.

A good guess for the focused netminder: De Leo had 12 goals and 22 points in 23 games when they faced each other.

“It doesn’t surprise me though,” added Comrie.

“Thanks, Eric. Thank you,” jabs De Leo.

The Winterhawks had a 17-5 record against the Americans in those game.

“Well, they did have a pretty good team.”

At the 2015 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship it was Comrie who would get his turn to be on top. In what has now become a traditional New Year’s Eve match up, Comrie backstopped Canada to a 5-3 win over De Leo and the United States team, with the forward being held off the scoresheet.

Canada went on to win gold at the tournament.

After being separated for that four-year period the two officially came back together in the same organization at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.

De Leo, having an October birthdate, missed out on the cut-off date for the draft the year prior by just over a month, leaving him to wait a full year longer for his draft day than his best friend. Comrie had been selected by Winnipeg in the second round of the 2013 NHL Draft.

As De Leo attended the draft in Philadelphia he wasn’t sure what would happen.

“I was at the draft with my parents waiting for my name to be called and when it was Winnipeg it was a big relief,” said De Leo. “I instantly thought it was the weirdest thing ever; when we were little we signed a piece of paper that we wanted to play together because we’re best friends.

“It was a pretty excited moment for everyone, then I looked at my phone and the first text I got was from Eric.”

In what can only be called a fairy tale, the two dreamers had signed a pact over three years earlier, stating they would do whatever it takes to play in the NHL and stay best friends forever.

Now they were both drafted to the NHL and with the same organization.

“I knew how good of a player he was, he scored a few too many goals on me when he was in Portland, I didn’t like that very much,” said Comrie. “But I knew also how good of a guy we were adding and how much he was going to add to the dynamic of the team, it was really exciting.”

Now the two are just one step closer to reaching their dreams of playing in the NHL as they both enter their first year of pro hockey with the Manitoba Moose in the AHL.

“It’s pretty special,” said De Leo. “Especially getting to live together, I think that makes it an easier transition for both of us.

“Moving to a new country and being a first-year pro, getting to live with one of your best friends it makes it a lot easier and a lot more enjoyable.”

Comrie feels making this move together will really help each of their development just as it did when they were younger with those big dreams.

“Having an understanding, the things we do, the things we like and bringing our routine here… it really helps add to our games and brings the same motivation to our practice for us. It just drives us forward and keeps us going.”

The two are out to a fine start to their pro careers.

De Leo has shown he has the skills and drive necessary to make it at the pro level. He scored his first AHL point in just his second game and already has a put together an early season point streak.

Comrie has come in as advertised showing that his huge potential is real. Through his first few starts with the Moose, the rookie is already ranked among the AHL’s leaders in goals-against average and save percentage.

It is performances like this that will see the two realize their ultimate goal of playing in the NHL together sooner rather than later.