Thursday, February 25, 2016

Craig Anderson continues to stop pucks

By Larry Wigge

Big save. Incredible stop. Ten bell save. Kick save and a beauty.

Craig Anderson just keeps the Ottawa Senators in contention. He's going to give them a chance, following victories over Edmonton, Buffalo, Carolina and Detroit.

"Pressure for me is to go out there and just play a kid's game ... It's not life or death," explained Anderson, who has always had to prove to someone else just how good his is.

Like last year. Andrew Hammond, of Hamburgler fan, bottomed out.

Old reliable Craig Anderson is the answer to Ottawa's hopes. Brian Elliot, Ben Bishop and Robin Lehner have been dealt elsehwere.

"We feel he's brought stability. The position is one that we need if you're going to retool, rebuild and improve this hockey club going forward," said GM Bryan Murray. "Craig has stepped in on our team to play the way we think we have to play. With that secure building block, now we can address some other issues.

"He was a guy that we felt we had a chance to sign. If ..."

Anderson has posted a 26-19-4 and 2.72 goals-against average with three shuouts.

He could have a chip on his shoulder over never really being given an opportunity to be a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL until now. Instead, he whimsically talks about the twists and turns in his life.

"If I wasn't a goalie, I'd probably be a race car driver. They only have to make left turns," Anderson laughed.

The 35-year-old netminder from Park Ridge, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, had some pretty good seasons in junior hockey at Guelph before the Blackhawks made him their third-round pick, 73rd overall, in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft.

But as all goaltenders find out quickly, stopping pucks coming at them at 90-100 mph is more than just being the target in a shooting gallery.

"People talk about obstacles you have to overcome in your life to get to the NHL," Anderson explained. "Mine was like playing tic-tac-toe with a travel agent for 16 days in January and early February of 2006, when I went from Chicago to Boston to St. Louis and then back to Chicago."

Confused ....

"It started when the Hawks put me on waivers to send me to Norfolk and I got a call at the airport telling me I should instead get on a plane to Boston," he recalled. "Twelve days later I was with St. Louis for one day ... and then back to Chicago. It was easily the craziest few days of my career."

In June of that year, more twists and turns as the Blackhawks traded Craig to Florida for a sixth-round draft choice.

Anderson admitted that some folks might feel like picking up a newspaper and answer a want ad, but it doesn't work that way in sports.

"I admit there were a lot of times when I was playing behind Nikolai Khabibulin in Chicago and Tomas Vokoun in Florida where my career seemed like it was on hold, but I never lost confidence that I could play at the NHL level," Anderson observed.

Want ads, really.

"The best advice I ever got was from my dad," Anderson recalled. "He always told me, 'Never say never.' And he lived that his life to those words. He was the CFO of a company that was in the business of wire and he was still racing cars in his late 30s."

Like most hockey players, the hard-working values of Richard and Holly Anderson (she was in real estate sales) and the encouragement to follow their dreams led to sports for their sons, John and Craig.

"I was your typical kid brother tagging along with my brother, who was five years older than me," Anderson said, before breaking into a wide smile. "My brother was five years older than me and I would do anything to be involved with him and his friends ... even if it meant standing in front of our garage being the goalie and taking shots off my head."

And this wasn't just some pickup by average athletes. John Anderson was drafted as a middle infielder by the Boston Red Sox and played a number of years in Class A ball.

While looks may be deceiving sometimes, goaltenders are a strange breed. And off the ice, Anderson hardly looks like Ottawa's latest best chance to find a solid puckstopper. He's 30, he's follically-impaired and he looks like a tall (at 6-2) and skinny man incapable of replacing a Patrick Roy.

"I learned a long time ago that you can't try to be someone else or replace a legend like Patrick," Anderson said. "You have to prove yourself everyday at this level. There are no free passes."

Anderson would never presume to put himself in the same light as Patrick Roy, when, in fact, he grew up watching and idolizing the kick saves of Grant Fuhr and Roy.

"Watching those two great goaltenders gave me the itch to be a goaltender," Anderson continued. "And fighting to keep my dream of getting a chance to show I could be an NHL goalie made me stronger mentally."

And auto racing? You remember the left turns he's taken in his career.

"I've still got the itch for that, too," he said. "But it's not as strong as proving to everyone that I can be consistent as a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL and keep the Avs in every game this season."

Craig Anderson is full of praise for Dominik Hasek as well. He remembers The Dominator from Chicago, too.

"He was phenomenal," said Anderson. "He's one of those guys that you just didn't know what he was going to do and that's why he was so special. That was one of the reasons guys didn't have a read on him. You just didn't know what he was going to do."

While The Dominator ruled the NHL crease in the late 1990's, he was also part one of the worst trades in NHL history. In 1992, Chicago GM Mike Keenan traded him to the Buffalo Sabres for Stephane Beauregard and a fourth round draft choice. Keenan then sent Beauregard to the Winnipeg Jets for Christian Ruutu.

The thinking was Ed Belfour was better than Hasek, despite Hasek's success in the Czech Republic before arriving in the NHL.

"I had a few guys that I played with growing up and one of the Dads, who, I believe, (had a European heritage), told me, "Watch this guy, he's better than Belfour.' No one really took him seriously until about 1999 or so."

Anderson says Hasek is among the very best -- and he was just a backup to Ed Belfour at one time.

"He would go right up there with my childhood heroes, Grant Fuhr and Patrick Roy. I know he doesn't have the regular season win record like Marty Brodeur or the playoff wins record like Roy, but his Vezinas speak for themselves."

Take it from Craig Anderson, the once aspiring race car driver, as he makes a glove save and covers up on the rebound.

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