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Vancouver Canucks' Andrew Raycroft makes a glove save during third period NHL action against the Anaheim Ducks in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday March 24, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck (DARRYL DYCK)
Vancouver Canucks' Andrew Raycroft makes a glove save during third period NHL action against the Anaheim Ducks in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday March 24, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck (DARRYL DYCK)

Canucks backup stands down Add to ...

Andrew Raycroft's work is done here.

At least, if everything goes as planned, it should be.

The Vancouver Canucks' backup goaltender may well get into another game before the team wraps up its regular season on April 10, but almost certainly will not play in the NHL playoffs - unless it is mop-up duty - so long as starter Roberto Luongo stays healthy.

So a 4-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks last Wednesday could stand as his final impression of the 2009-10 season, a campaign in which he did exactly what the Canucks asked of him and rehabilitated his once sagging career.

"It feels good that it has paid off," Raycroft said. "There's no way I could have done this four or five years ago. I didn't have the mindset for it. I didn't have the attitude for it.

"You learn things as you go on and as you get older, and I've learned that this is the NHL and you have to take what is given to you, and do the best you can every day, and prepare as well as you can. I've learned that the hard way."

Raycroft, 29, signed a one-year, $500,000 (U.S.) deal last summer to serve as Luongo's seldom-used backup. Once a starter for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins, with whom he was the NHL's top rookie in 2003-04, signing a humble-pie contract was difficult for a player who doesn't lack for confidence.

He was asked to make spot starts, to enter games with lopsided scores, and to replace an injured Luongo for five games during the season. He responded by posting a 2.21 goals-against average, .917 save percentage and an 8-4-1 record.

Raycroft said he "challenged myself to show I can still play," and banked on his professional pride, which had come under fire in Toronto.

Last season, the native of Belleville, Ont., made an off-the-cuff comment about not watching hockey when he's at home with the family. It drew fire from Leafs Nation on talk shows and message boards, where he was accused of not loving the sport he plays.

That his career took a downward turn in Toronto, a place where he was supposed to provide stability in the crease, didn't help his relationship with the fans. The grudge was evident last Jan. 30, when Raycroft was in net for a three-goal comeback and a 5-3 victory over the Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.

Toward the end of the game, Raycroft went for a skate in both corners and shook his fist at the patrons.

Reviled in the country's largest market, he is adored in the second-largest English-speaking market. After a terrific glove save on Anaheim's Matt Beleskey last Wednesday, the 18,810 at GM Place started chanting his name.

"It was greatly appreciated," he said.

But this love affair won't last long.

Canucks management has already indicated top prospect Cory Schneider will be given every opportunity to serve as Luongo's backup next year. The team has to start developing Schneider at the NHL level or it risks diminishing his trade value.

"I'm really happy for [Raycroft]and it probably means I'm going to have a new backup again next year," Luongo said. "I've never seen him moping, and that's important not just for the organization, but also for myself."

Follow on Twitter: @mattsekeres

 

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