With a trip to the conference finals on the line, Lack’s rookie season with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose came to a sudden close in historic fashion – a heartbreaking 2-1 triple-overtime loss to the Hamilton Bulldogs in the longest Game 7 ever played in the American Hockey League.
Though Lack made 55 saves and earned first-star honors in the effort, the loss still stung.
“It wasn’t a lot of fun losing that game,” he said, “but (looking back) it’s a neat thing to be a part of.”
The Atlanta Thrashers’ move to Winnipeg in the offseason set in motion a chain reaction that saw the Moose leave Manitoba and the Vancouver Canucks hook up with a new AHL affiliate – the Chicago Wolves.
But despite the upheaval, Lack is continuing to thrive.
Consistently among the top-ranked goalies in the league, the 24-year-old Lack (17-16-3) ranks seventh with a 2.28 goals-against average and third with a .927 save percentage – numbers almost identical to those that earned him AHL All-Rookie honors last season.
He signed with Vancouver in 2010 after several years playing in his native Sweden.
“I think a lot has changed from my time in Sweden,” he said. “I think I’m a lot more confident in my game over here, a lot stronger. It helped me a lot getting ready for the smaller ice over here.”
At 6-foot-5 and 185 pounds, “The Stork,” as he’s known to his teammates, credits his large frame as his main advantage.
“Of course, I’m a big guy so I’m trying to use that as my strength and cover as much net as possible,” he said. “I think I’m pretty good at reading the play and knowing what’s coming at me.”
Though Lack has distinguished himself as one of top young goalies in the game, it’s been a long road. Earlier this season, Lack had difficulty finding his rhythm, and Wolves head coach Craig MacTavish turned much of the goaltending work over to his teammate Matt Climie.
“I just worked even harder in practice and tried to go back to the basic stuff, not overanalyze everything or think too much,” he said of the struggle to find his consistency. “I just worked on my game.”
The work paid off with a 5-0 victory in Abbotsford on Jan. 25 that sparked his confidence. Since then Lack has surrendered just 21 goals in 13 appearances, going 8-5-0 with a 1.61 GAA, a .951 save percentage and two shutouts.
Though Lack has yet to make his NHL debut, he spent time in the Canucks’ playoff reserve until they fell to Bruins in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals last year. He dressed for his first NHL game on Nov. 16 of this season against the Blackhawks, before rejoining his Wolves the following day.
In an organization with the strong goaltending tandem of Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider, a young goalie like Lack has plenty of opportunities to improve and perfect his game.
“The Canucks’ goalie coach [Roland Melanson] is doing a great job,” Lack said. “He’s been down here a couple times to work with us.
“I’m just trying to watch as many games as the Canucks play as possible and learn as much as possible. They have a great tandem there – they’re probably the best in the NHL, so I’m trying to learn as much as possible from those guys.”
The Chicago Wolves organization has won four league championships in the last 14 years, including Calder Cups in 2002 and 2008. As they find themselves in the thick of a contentious Western Conference playoff race that sees eight teams separated by just four points between third and 10th place, there is no room for error.
But Eddie Lack knows how to keep it simple.
“We just have to make the playoffs first and then try to have as long a season as possible,” he said. “That’s pretty much what it’s all about. I just come to the rink and have fun with the guys every day.”
And of last year’s playoff exit?
“Hopefully we can make it a little bit longer down here in Chicago this year. Hopefully we’ll get to play in June.”