John Curry stretches last Sunday before the start of a training camp practice at Mellon Arena.
By Dave Molinari Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
John Curry could have taken it personally, could have snarled or sulked when he heard the news.
After all, through the early weeks of this offseason, after it became apparent that Mathieu Garon would be moving on, Curry was an obvious choice to be Marc-Andre Fleury's goaltending partner in 2009-10.
After all, he was coming off two excellent years with the Penguins' American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre and had acquitted himself well during a handful of NHL games last season.
Curry certainly was not seen as a lock for the job, but the prevailing sentiment appeared to be that he was qualified to step up to a role with the major league club.
But his credentials and qualifications were rendered moot July 21, when the Penguins announced they had signed veteran Brent Johnson, a free agent, to a one-year contract.
Johnson, a 32-year-old who is coming off four seasons with Washington and has played all of one minor league game in the past five years, inherited Garon's spot on the depth chart, nudging Curry back down to the rung he occupied last winter.
The decision to bring in Johnson was a mild surprise to some, but not Curry. While he was not necessarily pleased by the move, he grasped the thinking behind it.
Which is why he had no problem accepting it.
"I knew the situation and they had been upfront and honest with me the whole time about what the different scenarios were," Curry said. "The opportunity arose for them to get a veteran backup at a very cheap price ($525,000), and that's ultimately what it came down to.
"Was I happy? No, but I fully understand the situation they're in."
Curry, then a restricted free agent, reinforced that point 10 days later by re-signing with the Penguins, accepting a two-year deal.
"I want to be part of this organization," he said. "I want to be on this team. I'm just here to prove that again."
He certainly has made a pretty compelling case during his first two pro years as a pro.
Curry went 2-1, with a .913 save percentage and 2.14 goals-against average, in three appearances with the Penguins last season and put up some exceptional numbers while playing in Wilkes-Barre.
He was 33-15-1 in 50 games with the Baby Penguins, compiling a .916 save percentage and 2.38 goals-against average. That came in the wake of a rookie season during which he went 24-12-3 and had a 2.23 goals-against and a .915 save percentage while helping his team reach the Calder Cup final.
"We're happy with where he's at now," goaltending coach Gilles Meloche said. "He's had two good years."
The technical aspects of Curry's game have steadily improved since he turned pro; his most striking quality -- his willingness to compete, to concede nothing in any situation -- has not changed and might be the primary reason he has established himself as the go-to goalie on the Penguins' top minor league team.
And, if circumstances demand it this season, Meloche is confident that Curry could step up to the NHL and perform capably.
"I think he's shown he can play in this league, but Ray [Shero, the general manager] just thought we needed a little more experience," Meloche said. "We've had injuries [to Fleury] the last two years, so we could use three [NHL-caliber] goalies."
Part of having Curry, 25, be NHL-ready is getting him enough game work to stay sharp. That isn't as much of a concern with a guy like Johnson, who is 32 and has played in as many as 30 games just once since appearing in 38 for St. Louis in 2002-03.
"If anything happens, you want [Curry] to [have played some games]," Meloche said. "He had a good first year and got better last year. He needs to play."
Precisely what his workload in Wilkes-Barre will be is not certain, but Curry -- while acknowledging the perils of playing too many games -- hopes he will not spend too much time sitting.
"I want to play as many games as possible," he said. "You don't want to overdo it -- you want to be fresh, so you can continue to improve and show what you can do -- but you have to take it day by day."
That's a pretty sound approach, and Curry's chance to claim a full-time job in the NHL almost certainly is coming. It will just be a year or so later than some people expected.
NOTE -- The Penguins had yesterday off, but will resume working out today at Mellon Arena. They will play their final four exhibition games on the road, visiting Montreal tomorrow, Toronto Tuesday, Columbus Thursday and Detroit Sunday.