The months of hard work recovering from two separate injuries are now paying huge dividends for Eddie Lack.
Lack has become the Vancouver Canucks' starting goalie for now as a result of Roberto Luongo's undisclosed injury. The 25-year-old rookie will play Sunday against the Flames in Calgary and is expected to start again Monday when the Canucks host the Philadelphia Flyers.
"It's fun to play, obviously," said Lack after Vancouver's first practice Friday following the Christmas break. "I'm just trying to make the most of it."
The Canucks summoned Joacim Eriksson from Utica of the AHL to serve as Lack's backup. Luongo, who didn't practise, was injured last weekend in a win over Winnipeg that Lack came off the bench to secure the victory.
Coach John Tortorella said Luongo is listed as day-to-day but provided no further details.
Lack missed most of last season due to a torn labrum that required surgery, and also had bones in both hips shaved. The Swede spent his first three pro seasons in North America in Vancouver's farm system after going undrafted and being signed by the Canucks as a free agent.
He has tried not to think too much about his injuries or the lack of interest showed in him by other NHL teams.
"I always thought I was capable of playing in this league," said Lack. "I worked hard a long time to get here.
"I'm just trying to have fun every day."
But not too much. Known for a perpetual grin and wry sense of humour he occasionally expresses on Twitter, Lack appeared more subdued in wake of Luongo's injury and what one reporter characterized as the "funny" circumstances that have led to his current promotion.
"Actually, I haven't talked to him over the break . . . but I'm sure he'll be back soon," said Lack.
In 11 appearances this season, Lack has a 6-2-0 record, 1.93 goals-against average, .928 save percentage (slightly better than Luongo's .920) and his first career NHL shutout.
"He's played really well for us," said Canucks captain Henrik Sedin. "We know what Eddie can do and, hopefully, Louie's not out too long and Eddie can step up for us in the games he needs to be in there."
Sedin noted two of Lack's wins have come against top NHL clubs like Chicago and St. Louis. Tortorella praised Lack for providing "flexibility" and valuable points, heady praise considering the Canucks coach knew little about Lack at the start of training camp despite the belief Lack was the heir apparent following Cory Schneider's off-season trade to New Jersey.
"As I said prior (to Christmas), we have total confidence in (Lack's) play, so he steps in," Tortorella said. "I'm not sure what's going to happen with Roberto, but (Lack) is going to play (Sunday) and we'll go from there."
Luongo joins forward Alex Burrows (jaw) and defenceman Alex Edler (undisclosed) among Vancouver's key injured veterans. But Tortorella is trying to take Luongo's injury in stride.
"This is what happens when you have an injury," said Tortorella.
Lack will be looked to to help the Canucks continue their winning ways. Vancouver has won nine of its last 11 games after battling a nine-game winless streak earlier this season.
The Canucks often play games just before and after Christmas but this year had the rare luxury of four days off.
"We needed a break," said Tortorella. "We've played a lot of hockey in a lot of time zones, have had some injuries along the way here so it was a perfect time for our break.
"We're ready to get back into it."
Meanwhile, Eriksson is looking forward to suiting up for his first-ever NHL game. The Canucks signed the native of Gavle, Sweden as a free agent in June after three seasons in the Swedish Elite League.
He was sent to the AHL after battling with Lack for the backup job during the preseason. Eriksson admits he struggled to adjust to the smaller ice and speed in North America but has become more confident of late, posting an 8-10-1 record with a Utica squad that has struggled.
"I work a lot every day and it gets better and better than it did before when I (came) here," said Eriksson.
Eriksson learned of his promotion in a phone call while in New York City with his girlfriend on Dec. 23.
"So it was a good Christmas present," he said.
However, Tortorella took a bah-humbug approach when asked if, in light of the festive season, he might want to shed light on Vancouver's injury situation.
"I don't believe in the spirit of Christmas," he said with a grin.
Notes: Hunter Shinkaruk, Vancouver's 2013 first-round pick (24th overall) has been sidelined four-to-six months with a hip injury. GM Mike Gillis said Friday that Shinkaruk will undergo surgery to repair a torn labrum in Vail, Colo., on Jan. 7 and is expected to make a full recovery in time for next year's training camp. Shinkaruk, 18, was returned to Medicine Hat of the WHL after being among Vancouver's final pre-season cuts. He was also among the last players released from Canada's world junior team.