Like Buffalo Sabres fans, who have suffered through a league record 11-year playoff drought, Eric Comrie knows what it’s like to wait your turn.

Comrie has waited nearly that long to become a first-string NHL goalie. Drafted in the second round by the Jets in 2013, he spent parts of eight straight seasons in the AHL. He was waived four times and traded once between 2019 and 2021.

Last season, he spent his first full season in the NHL and was 10-5-1 with a .920 save percentage as the backup to Connor Hellebuyck with the Jets. There was still a lot of waiting. Comrie had an average of 13 days between starts. At one point, he sat for 50 days as Hellebuyck started 13 consecutive games in the Winnipeg net. Then he won five starts in a row. 

Kevyn Adams noticed. He also examined Comrie’s often stellar play in 207 games in the AHL. In July, the Sabres gave him a two-year, $3.6 million contract, presumably to serve as the bridge netminder until Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen or Devon Levi is ready.

Comrie, 27, is well aware that top-notch goaltending could be the key to the Sabres snapping their playoff drought sooner than generally anticipated. An NHL starter at last, he takes that responsibility to heart. 

“Oh, a hundred percent,” Comrie said after Thursday night’s 3-2 home loss to Montreal. “I think it’s my job to get wins, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a 2-1 win or a 5-4 win. It’s my job to get wins. I take the responsibility every single night that we don’t.”

Thursday night was no exception. Comrie was solid and at times spectacular against the Canadiens. But seconds after he made a 10-bell save to keep the game tied, Josh Anderson knuckled a shot over his left shoulder to give Montreal the game-deciding goal with 3:46 left.

The shot appeared to be tipped. It was such a fluky goal that the official scorer changed it twice. The Canadiens’ first goal of the night deflected in off Owen Power’s skate after Comrie made a kick save. He was asked if he had been the victim of hard luck in the team’s second straight loss.

“No, and that’s the way it goes,” said Comrie, who had 31 saves. “That’s a game we’ve got to try to win 2-1, and I take responsibility for that.

“That’s hockey sometimes. Sometimes, you don’t get those bounces. Sometimes those things happen. We’ve got to try to win that game. It’s a big game for us to win and we don’t pull it off. So we’ll look at that one, and get better from there.”

One thing that’s certain is the guy will keep working. Comrie, a self-professed student of the game, is generally the first Sabre to hit the ice for practices and morning skates. He’ll stay out as long as he has teammates ready to shoot the puck at him.

The Sabres knew he was a respected teammate in previous stops. Head coach Don Granato said a player he had coached in the NHL and a fellow coach praised Comrie as a terrific person and dutiful worker.

Comrie, an Edmonton native whose family moved to California when he was 9, said he was eager to come to a team where he could be the No. 1 goalie, and also to help a team that was desperate to get back to the playoffs.

“I wanted to come here because I have heard the culture here is spectacular,” he said. “I heard everybody in this room wants to be here. Everybody in this room is extremely close.

“The minute I got here, I was greeted with open arms. It’s what’s special about this group and this team. I can see every single day I come to the rink, everyone has a smile on their face, everyone’s happy to work, happy to be here. That’s extremely exciting for me, because you don’t get that everywhere you go.

“This is an excellent team,” Comrie said. “You can see every single day in practice how good this team is, and I just want to do as best I can for the fans and the people in this room. I truly think this team can be special.”

The Sabres were special in their three-game winning streak out West. Comrie had 46 and 40 saves in victories at Edmonton and Calgary. But he gave up five goals in Seattle, when the entire team was flat. 

They played with noticeably more energy in KenBank Center on Thursday, but pucks that were going in a week earlier weren’t finding the net against Montreal. The Sabres had a season-high 45 shots on goal, outshooting an opponent for the first time. But Canadiens goalie Sam Montembault was up to the task. 

Despite the shot total, head coach Don Granato felt his team could have been more assertive around the net, especially during the latter part of the loss.

“We complicated some things,” Granato said. “We could have been a little more intense going to the net. I think we tried to pass the puck into the net.”

As Comrie said, that’s hockey. An NHL season is a long, arduous grind, with games often decided by fluky bounces and ugly goals. The Sabres are on the rise, but it will be difficult to reach the playoffs in a highly competitive Eastern Conference. 

As of Monday, the East was 27-6-4 in games against the West. A year ago, it required 100 points to get the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference. The Sabres finished with 75 points a season ago. They haven’t had 80 since the 2015-16 season, or 90 since the last time they made the playoffs in 2011.

It’s early, but the Sabres are currently one of 12 teams with eight or nine points in the East. The playoff race figures to be cluttered, and reasonable Buffalo fans simply hope that this young team is playing meaningful games deep into March this season.

Comrie seemed to understand that one loss and two squandered points in October can be the difference in April, and that great goaltending can be the most vital factor of all in a hockey town thirsting for relevance.

“The main thing about hockey is you take full ownership for everything you do,” he said, “and as a goalie I take full ownership for every single win and loss. I want to prepare every single night to win games, and that’s the responsibility I hold for myself and the thing I want to do for this team.”


Jerry Sullivan is an award-winning journalist who joined the News 4 team in 2020 after three decades as a sports columnist at The Buffalo News. See more of his work here.