by Daniel Fink | AHL On The Beat
April 11, 2015. After three losses to begin his professional career with the St. John’s IceCaps, goaltender Eric Comrie earns his first win. The prospect netminder turns away 21 of 22 Hershey Bears shots in the victory. Comrie went on to win his next, and final start, in St. John’s. His career, along with the record book he would come to dominate, travel to Winnipeg that summer.
April 24, 2021. Stockton Heat defenseman Rob Hamilton peels back into his own zone as the seconds tick down to zero at Bell MTS Iceplex. The Manitoba Moose bench empties and the team scrambles toward their goaltender who’s in the midst of a furious celebratory fist pump. Eric Comrie just won his 85th game with the franchise, becoming the team’s all-time winningest goaltender.
A quick look at the numbers tells you Eric Comrie has appeared in 207 American Hockey League games with the Manitoba Moose, St. John’s IceCaps and Tucson Roadrunners. He has 90 career victories, which are supported by a 2.82 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage. While Eric Comrie’s impact on the Manitoba Moose goes far beyond the impressive stat lines, numbers can be a great place to start.
Barring incredible coincidence, the above number won’t go down as a significant mark in Comrie’s career numbers. It does, however, provide a little context to the added adversity and triumph for the Edmonton, Alta., product reaching 85 wins with the franchise. On March 7, 2020, Comrie collected his 83rd with the Moose/IceCaps. In the interest of word-count, I’ll pass it off to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman to fill you in on the journey that was Comrie’s 2019-20 season and what it took just to get to win number 83. Sitting just one victory back of Moose legend Cory Schneider for the franchise mark, it seemed inevitable Comrie would claim the crown by the end of the season.
You likely know where this is going.
With the Moose on their way to Milwaukee to start a run of three games in three nights, the AHL pushed pause. COVID-19 began its full push to the front of our awareness, where it still remains. So Comrie stood still at 83 for over one calendar year.
Comrie finally returned to the Moose crease on March 13, 2021. After spending most of the campaign on the Winnipeg Jets taxi squad, he was sent to the Moose to get in some game action. The veteran netminder made 19 saves on 21 shots as the Moose snapped a three-game losing skid against the Stockton Heat in a 4-2 win. Cory Schneider had company at 84 wins. Comrie’s stint with the Moose lasted just that one game. Many were left wondering if the opportunity would arise for the franchise’s leader in games played and saves to add another accomplishment to the list.
“I do believe because of how unique this season was and how little games some of us are playing due to the taxi squad situation it kind of magnified it more,” said defenseman Nelson Nogier, who spent most of the season on the taxi squad with Comrie. “Coms tied that record and then went up to the taxi squad again for a month or however long it was. So as he was sitting there I think it became more known that he was tied for the record and the next time down he would have the ability to break that record.”
Just over a month later, on March 23, the news came down from the Winnipeg Jets. Comrie was heading back to the Moose to start the next day. Once again against the Stockton Heat. 413 days since he picked up win number 83.
The puck dropped shortly after 1 p.m. at Bell MTS Iceplex. The Moose were every bit their namesake, charging at full speed throughout the contest. Manitoba outshot Stockton 46-13, giving Comrie a light workload for the afternoon. Despite the spotlight firmly on the Moose crease coming into the contest, it was the visiting netminder who stole the show a good portion of the afternoon. Garret Sparks was sensational. The highlight reel was extensive as he turned away 43 Moose shots over the 60 minutes.
Manitoba looked to one of its hottest players and a newly formed line to provide offence in the contest. 19-year-old Cole Perfetti opened the scoring by tucking away a rebound 8:10 into the game. The Moose left the period with a 1-0 lead. Comrie had to make just three saves.
Things evened out a bit in the second as the Manitoba netminder turned aside six shots in the period. The 1-0 score line held until the final 90 seconds of the frame when Perfetti opened up new addition Dominic Toninato for a quick one-timer and a little insurance heading to the third.
The duo connected again early in the third, with some help from Kristian Reichel, to give Manitoba a 3-0 lead. Owning a comfortable lead, the new record looked to be a sure thing. A shutout, though, would be the exclamation point to the contest. Despite facing just four shots in the final period, Comrie was tested late in the contest by a Stockton power play and pair of Stockton chances in the final minutes.
“I took a penalty with five minutes left and my heart sunk because there was nothing I wanted more than for him to get that shutout,” recalled Nogier. “When I was sitting in the penalty box I was just praying the boys would kill it off because I didn’t want to be the guy that maybe cost him a shutout on a history-making day.”
This was indeed Comrie’s day, though, and the shutout held.
After congratulating their netminder on the ice, the excitement carried over into the team’s complex where the team is spread out over two dressing rooms.
“It was awesome. Lots of excitement. Just to be with him and everyone was really happy to be a part of it and experience it first-hand,” Nogier said with a smile. “Then (Mark Chipman) comes down and addresses the team and gives the game puck to Coms. It was a pretty cool thing to be a part of and neat to see.”
Comrie has been between the pipes for 71 of Moose head coach Pascal Vincent’s 152 AHL wins. The Manitoba bench boss was happy to see his netminder reach the milestone, and is excited to see what’s still to come for the netminder.
“I mean the Moose have been around for quite some time now, going back to Moose 1.0, and there was quite a few good goalies in Winnipeg playing for the Moose over that time. For him to be the all-time leader tells you quite a bit about his career and what’s he’s done so far. And he’s still a young guy so. Amazing accomplishment. We’re all very happy for him and it’s certainly well deserved.”
Once again, though, Eric Comrie’s impact on the Manitoba Moose, Winnipeg Jets and everyone who spends time with the netminder goes far beyond the impressive milestones on the ice. So let’s go behind the wins.
There aren’t many teammates, current or former, who can claim to know Eric Comrie as well as San Diego Gulls forward Chase De Leo. The former Manitoba Moose Rookie of the Year has known Comrie since 2005 when the pair met at Westminster Ice Rink. De Leo remembers Comrie walking into the rink “with bangs and a mullet, carrying his pads that were way too big for him at the time.” De Leo was skating as part of a private lesson and shooting on an empty net, something the 10-year-old hated at the time.
“I went over to him and begged him to come out,” recalled De Leo. “It didn’t take much convincing. He was on the ice five minutes later with me. Since then, every time we’re on the ice together it’s a battle and we compete and push each other.”
That friendly rivalry carried on during their time in the WHL’s U.S. Division. Comrie guarded the net for the Tri-City Americans while De Leo was firing pucks from the side of the Portland Winterhawks. The pair were united on the ice as teammates with the Moose during the 2015-16 campaign.
“This is kind of funny, but I was never big on sleepovers as a kid,” laughed De Leo. “I honestly think the Comries’ house is probably the first place I slept over. It was after a Ducks game. I don’t even think we slept a second that night. We stayed up the entire night playing mini-hockey or playing NHL on the Xbox and eating Cheez-Its.”
So it was fitting the duo ended up living together, along with defenseman Brenden Kichton, that first season in Manitoba. After living with a billet family during his time in Portland, the shift to pro-hockey all the way in Winnipeg was a big adjustment. One that was helped along by Comrie.
“I kind of joke about it, but it was almost like living with my dad still. He was always there to keep me in check and I think he was in bed by six o’clock every single night, which was pretty crazy, but I had to keep the music down. It made my life a lot easier. Being that far away from my home and my family and having really nobody to look out for me or be there for me… we had each other to lean on. I think those are the moments that I’ll keep forever and cherish forever.”
When reflecting on his friend’s accomplishments, De Leo believes Comrie’s journey the past couple seasons added to how special the moment was.
“It’s not easy. I don’t think people from the outside realize how much of a toll it takes not only physically, but I think mentally more than anything,” he explained. “To be able to seriously push through everything he’s gone through and keep striving and accomplishing what he is… it’s impressive. I think that’s a good bar to set for everybody. If they can hold themselves to that standard, they’re going to be successful.”
All but four of Comrie’s American Hockey League games have come wearing the blue and white of the Winnipeg Jets organization. Over a six-season span since the Moose returned to Winnipeg, the netminder has been one of the faces of the franchise. When Moose public address announcer Evan Duncan belts out the netminder’s name in his signature style, the ovation from fans always hit a new level.
Comrie’s popularity isn’t just with folks sitting in the stands. It’s something that permeates throughout the organization during his 203 games in antlers. According to Nogier, players like Comrie make up the backbone of a franchise.
“You look at how he carries himself at the rink and his preparation and the type of person he is and the attitude he brings to the rink every day. He’s the perfect player any type of organization would want.”
Like Nogier, Coach Vincent has had a front-row to see the impact Comrie continues to make on those around him.
“From day one, and I’ve known Eric for quite some years now, he’s just been a phenomenal person around the team. His work ethic is off the charts. He’s a great teammate. He has great leadership skills, and he’s a great goalie. So he’s meant a lot to this organization.”
Former teammates, like Bakersfield Condors forward Seth Griffith, look back fondly on their time spent with the consistently affable goaltender.
“He’s a true pro. He really takes pride in preparing for each and every game the same way. I think that just goes to show with how he performs on the ice and him breaking that record,” stated Griffith, who led the Moose in scoring for two consecutive seasons. “Coms has been a big part of the Moose for a while now. It was great to see him achieve that milestone. I think it was just a matter of time with how he competes each and every game. He’s well liked around the room too, so it couldn’t go to a more deserving guy.”
Moose senior director of hockey and business operations Brad Andrews was there from the very beginning of Comrie’s career. He watched Comrie grow from a young goalie, fresh from the WHL, to an integral part of the Moose over the years.
“The first time I met Eric was when I went to pick him up at the airport in St. John’s in the spring of 2014 following the completion of his junior team’s season. Off the plane walked a very excited, youthful looking, and overdressed young man, wearing a full suit,” Andrews remembered. “Not a lot has changed since that first encounter. Eric continues to epitomize what a professional athlete should be both publicly and within the walls of the dressing room. He’s always positive and willing to do anything for his team and his community. At the same time he continues to show up at the rink just as excited as he was back when I first met him.”
Back in 2019, a flurry of transactions saw Comrie spend time in three different NHL organizations. The netminder actually ended up starting a game against the Winnipeg Jets. The Detroit Red Wings had traded for Comrie and he drew the start when the Red Wings made a visit to Bell MTS Place. Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice was asked about the opposition’s netminder.
“He’s just a wonderful, wonderful personality. I’m really happy he’s getting the chance to be back in the NHL,” explained the Jets bench boss prior to the Dec. 10, 2019 matchup. “I wish the best for him after a couple of days from now, I really do. There’s a guy we should all be pulling for. He’s top-five best guys ever and if you know him you know I’m not exaggerating.”
Comrie’s popularity carries from inside the dressing room, throughout the organization and even to those who cover the team for the media. The netminder has been an important ambassador for the Moose when it comes to telling the team’s story each season.
“I first met Eric back on June 30, 2013 at the draft in New Jersey when he was selected by the Jets,” recalls The Illegal Curve’s Dave Minuk. A consistent fixture in the Bell MTS press box, Minuk witnessed a very sizeable chunk of Comrie’s 86 total wins with the franchise. “Since that time, I’ve been interacting with him when he was with the Jets and Moose. He’s always been a pleasure to deal with. He’s a hard-working guy who will always gives you an honest assessment of his game and invariably does so with a smile on his face.”
Andrew “Hustler” Paterson has covered the Moose since their original stint in Winnipeg. Comrie has been a regular guest on his shows since arriving on the scene, including his new venture, Winnipeg Sports Talk.
“Beyond his franchise milestone win and everything he has done for the Moose on the ice, I’d be hard pressed to find another athlete that is as engaging and as much fun to talk to as Eric,” commented Paterson. “He’s always thoughtful with his answers talking hockey, and even more fun when talking about his other passions like golf and fantasy football. It’s always a pleasure having him on the show. It’s pretty easy to see why he’s so popular with Manitoba hockey fans as well as such a valued member of the Winnipeg Jets organization. Eric is the definition of a class act.”
We could close it off there, but this is a player who hasn’t just left a mark on a hockey team. If you’re discussing Eric Comrie’s impact, his role in the community of Winnipeg should always come up.
Comrie’s work away from the rink truly cements his status as one of the franchises most popular players. The 2017 Julian Klymkiw Community Service Award winner has been a fixture with the True North Youth Foundation. Comrie has been especially involved with Project 11, a program focused on teaching school-aged children about mental health. The veteran netminder has been an ambassador for the program for over five years now.
Spending time in the classroom, Project 11 relies on role models like Comrie to give kids a new and engaging voice. There’s great value in a professional hockey player talking about mental health and showing that even the athletes we idolize need to take care of themselves as well.
“We all have mental health and we all need to learn how to take care of it,” explains Project 11’s Kerri Waldbauer. “Eric really inspires kids by showing them that. He talks openly about mental health, the importance of us learning about mental health and the importance of learning coping strategies. He really inspires kids to do the same.”
Comrie brings the same enthusiasm he has every day at the rink into the classroom. Despite the busy hockey schedule, in a normal season, Comrie reaches out to Project 11 staff to see how he can help.
“He’s such a kind and genuine person. He truly wants to make a difference and do whatever he can to impact and inspire students. He really, really cares,” Waldbauer continued. “He recognizes the impact his visits make. Just taking an interest in what the students are learning, and listening to what they’re going through. He shares so openly with them about how he takes care of his own mental health.”
Waldbauer closed by putting Comrie’s contributions to the program very simply.
“He’s just amazing.”
The Manitoba Moose franchise has played host to some incredible players who have achieved so much with the organization and beyond. Over the past six seasons, Eric Comrie earned his place among the ranks of those franchise legends. It’s fitting for a player who embodies so many of the ideals the team holds paramount to sit atop so many of the club’s franchise records. Marks he will hold for a good, long time.
“It means a lot. This organization has been special to me since day one and it’s been an honor to be drafted here and play for the Moose,” said Comrie following his history-making win. “It’s a very historical organization. I know (Mark) Chipman takes great pride in this organization and really treats us well and that means a lot to myself. And it’s just being a part of this organization and being able to set a franchise record is pretty special to myself.”