If that really was Eric Comrie’s last game in net for the Tucson Roadrunners — and it sure looks that way — he certainly made this one count.
Going save-for-save with American Hockey League ironman Cal Petersen of the visiting Ontario Reign, Comrie — under contract with the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes but in Tucson for a two-week conditioning stint that effectively ended as soon as the buzzer sounded Friday night — stopped 29 of 30 Ontario shots in pacing the Roadrunners (13-4-0-0) to a 4-1 win over the Reign (8-7-2-0) at Tucson Arena.
The rematch is set for Saturday night in another 7:05 start at Tucson Arena. It's the first of eight Saturdays this season where the Roadrunners will don black Arizona Coyotes-inspired “Kachina” jerseys.
While Comrie was tested Friday, Petersen, who has started all 17 of Ontario’s outings so far this season, was peppered and then some.
Tucson registered 46 shots on goal — the Roadrunners’ second-highest output of the season. But the Roadrunners managed to slip three past Petersen, who stopped 42 of 45 shots against (Tucson also scored late into an empty net) despite Tucson building a lead the Reign wouldn’t be able to catch.
Lane Pederson’s early second-period power play marker brought his team-high total to 11 goals on the season – good for fifth in the AHL with Tucson’s 68-game 2019-20 schedule exactly a quarter of the way through. After Johan Sodergran tied it up for Ontario, Beau Bennett and Kevin Hancock added late second-period tallies to retake and pad the Roadrunners’ lead.
Hancock’s goal was the first of his professional career.
“It felt amazing,” Hancock said. “I’ll remember that forever, and it’s even better getting that win, too.”
Andy Miele and Brayden Burke had two assists apiece, Hudson Fasching and Robbie Russo posted an assist each, and Jeremy Gregoire scored an empty net goal inside a minute to play in the third.
Comrie was victorious in all four of his Tucson starts since joining the Roadrunners Nov. 9, and team officials confirmed he’d be back with the NHL’s Coyotes beginning this weekend. The Coyotes claimed Comrie off waivers from the Winnipeg Jets right at the start of the season. By NHL rules, he had to stick with the Coyotes for approximately a month. But as the club’s third goaltender, backing up Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta in Glendale, Comrie didn’t see any game action this season – or even much practice time, he said – until his first night with the Roadrunners two weeks ago.
In that outing, he gave up six goals to the Stockton Heat at Tucson Arena, but Roadrunners nonetheless still won, 7-6. Since: three starts, a 1.67 goals against average, and a .932 save percentage.
“It was important for me. My first game – it was a long time since I’d played a game. It was a long time since I really had any practice time,” Comrie said. “My first game here was kind of like training camp for me all over again.”
Tucson coach Jay Varady said finding time for players who need experience, like Comrie, is the purpose of the AHL as a developmental league.
“We were able to provide him an opportunity to get into the net,” Varady said. “It took him a game maybe to get his legs under him … he did a great job for us. He’s a good person in our locker room.”
Added Comrie of his stint in Tucson: “This was a lot of fun. I think it was a successful time … It’s important when you come down to make sure you get wins for the team, and to get four wins was a big accomplishment.”
Per those rules tied to NHL contracts, Comrie is now ineligible to stay in Tucson, and he likely can’t return at a later date either unless he clears waivers at some point. That’s not something the Coyotes plan to test just yet; so, for the time being, Comrie will again be the third goaltender behind Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta in Glendale.
“Hockey’s kind of a day-by-day kind of thing. … You never know what’s going to happen the next day. I kind of learned to just live in the present and let my work ethic take care of itself,” Comrie said. “As of now, I’m going to drive back to … my condo in Scottsdale either tonight or tomorrow and join the (Coyotes) on Sunday.”
To fill the second goaltender’s spot in Tucson, prior to Saturday’s matchup with Ontario, the Roadrunners will most certainly recall either Ivan Prosvetov, who posted a 1.98 goals against average and .944 save percentage in four starts of his own this season with the Roadrunners, or Merrick Madsen. As of Friday, both were with the Rapid City Rush, the Coyotes’ and Roadrunners’ ECHL affiliate.