Curry adds some spice to franchise's goaltending
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KITCHENER, Ontario -- It not as if John Curry actually was confessing to anything.
Nothing that hasn't been obvious for quite a while, anyway.
"It could be," he said, "that I position myself as the underdog."
Dates to circle for the Penguins in the next seven days:
Today: Rookie tournament game vs. Florida Panthers in Kitchener, Ontario.
Tomorrow: Rookie tournament game vs. Ottawa Senators in Kitchener, Ontario.
Tuesday: Penguins full training camp opens.
Wednesday: First workouts and scrimmages, 9 a.m., Mellon Arena.
Saturday: Preseason opener vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, 7:30 p.m., Mellon Arena.
Gee, ya think so?
Would that be because he went to Boston University as a walk-on and had to beat out two scholarship players to become the No. 1 goalie?
Because no NHL team bothered to invest even a late-round draft choice in him?
Or because, after signing with the Penguins as a free agent in 2007, he entered pro hockey as no better than the No. 5 goalie on the organizational depth chart?
"I like proving people wrong," Curry said. "I like a challenge."
That was evident last season, after a six-game audition with Las Vegas of the ECHL and a strong showing in the Deutschland Cup tournament. When Marc-Andre Fleury went down with a high ankle sprain, Curry filled the void created by the promotion of Ty Conklin and became the go-to goalie for the Penguins' American Hockey League team in Wilkes-Barre.
"I was fortunate, being able to play more than I originally expected to because of the injuries," Curry said. "You never hope for injuries, but that's how opportunities are made."
Curry took full advantage of his, outdueling David Brown, an eighth-round draft choice in 2004, to earn the No. 1 job with the Baby Penguins.
After going 24-12-3, with a .915 save percentage and 2.23 goals-against average, in 40 regular-season appearances, he helped to lead Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to the Calder Cup final.
"Both Curry and Brown progressed more than we expected," assistant general manager Chuck Fletcher said. "A lot of that had a lot to do with Fleury getting hurt.
"Both played a lot more games in the American League than we expected, and, obviously, Curry grabbed the reins. He clearly established himself as the [Baby Penguins'] No. 1 goalie by the end of the year."
Curry's work cemented his place as the franchise' No. 3 goalie going into the training camp that begins Tuesday, and he did nothing to undermine his position by stopping 19 of 21 shots in a 5-2 victory against Toronto in a prospects tournament at Kitchener Memorial Auditorium last night.
Curry was recovering from hip surgery when he signed with the Penguins, but showed few lingering effects of that operation last season, when he made a surprisingly smooth transition to pro hockey.
"In a way, it's more organized, so it's easier," Curry said. "It's more controlled, therefore you have to develop your style to be more controlled. A 'less-is-more' type of style.
"I honestly thought it was a little easier than college. Obviously, the shots are better because the quality of the players is better, but it's easier to anticipate."
What wasn't so easy to anticipate, at least for management, was that Curry would hold up so well under the pressure of his first professional playoffs, as he went 14-9 over four rounds.
"Going into the playoffs, one of the main questions for our club was whether we'd have the goaltending that could match up with our opponents," Fletcher said. "I think the record clearly shows that we did."
There is, of course, ample room for improvement. While the technical aspects of Curry's game, like his positioning, got better last season, his intangibles remain his greatest asset.
"He has tremendous focus and competitiveness," Fletcher said. "He's one of those goaltenders who doesn't get rattled. He fights through traffic well in front of the net. If he lets in a bad goal or has a bad game, he rebounds quickly. He's just a good, honest player."
Good enough that, for now, he is the early favorite to succeed Dany Sabourin as Fleury's backup if the Penguins opt against re-signing Sabourin next summer. That can change, of course, but Curry has a habit of humbling those who underestimate him.
"It's still a big jump from the American League to the NHL, and he'll have to prove he can do it," Fletcher said. "But his track record shows that you don't bet against him too often."
NOTES -- Right wingers Joey Haddad (two) and Jean-Michel Daoust, along with defensemen Ben Lovejoy and Jonathan D'Aversa, scored goals for the Penguins' prospects last night. Center Mark Letestu assisted on the first three goals.
First Published September 14, 2008 12:05 am