Sunday’s contest between the Ottawa Senators and the Vancouver Canucks featured an interesting goaltender’s duel: in net for the Canucks was Cory Schneider, arguably the best backup of Vancouver’s post-lockout era. In net for the Senators was Alex Auld, arguably the second-best.

It was neat seeing a blast from the past in Auld, and it instantly caused me to think back over all of the other backup netminders the Canucks have employed since the 2004-05 work stoppage. There have been 12 in total, although many did little more than warm the bench. Matt Climie, Eddie Lack, Drew MacIntyre, and Rob McVicar, for instance, were merely there to fill the seat while the backup got the start and the starter nursed an injury, and only McVicar got into the game, his NHL career beginning and ending in three short minutes of shotless action.

A handful of the others had more memorable stints on the west coast, however, and with that in mind, PITB counts down the five best backups of the post-lockout Vancouver Canucks.

*****

1. CORY SCHNEIDER

Though he was drafted in 2004, Schneider didn’t earn his role as Canucks’ backup until last season. That said, like a well-roasted duck, he was clearly worth all the extra seasoning. His first year in the Canucks’ goalie rotation saw him earn a share of the William M. Jennings trophy as the goaltender of the team with the fewest goals allowed. It was a franchise-first for the Canucks.

Best moment: That Jennings trophy is pretty special, and Schneider wouldn’t have been able to achieve it if Alain Vigneault and Roberto Luongo hadn’t conspired to get him a 28-second appearance late in the season to ensure that he reached 25 games played.

Worst moment: Schneider got a surprise start in game 6 of the Canucks’ first round playoff series versus the Chicago Blackhawks last spring. It didn’t go so well. Not only did Schneider directly contribute to two Chicago goals with puckhandling errors — after allowing another on a penalty shot, he cramped up and had to leave the game. Unfortunate.

Alex Auld, apparently paying homage to PITB iconography.

2. ALEX AULD

Auld came to the Canucks much the same way most players do: by way of a trade from Florida. Originally drafted 40th overall by the Panthers in 1999, he was shipped to the Canucks for a pair of draft picks.

Auld got his first start for the Canucks on January 23, 2002, but due to Brian Burke’s affinity for acquiring backups, he wouldn’t see any significant backup time until the 2004 Stanley Cup playoffs, when Dan Cloutier went down with an injury in game 4 and Auld would be called on to take over, backstopping the Canucks to a game 7 versus the Calgary Flames. They would lose in overtime.

After the lockout, Auld would resume his duties as the backup, but he would once again find himself thrust into a larger role because of a Dan Cloutier injury, taking over as the starter when Dan Cloutier opted for surgery on a torn ACL in December of 2005.

Auld would perform admirably (especially compared to his backups, Maxime Ouellet and Mika Noronen), but when the Canucks failed to make the playoffs at season’s end, GM Dave Nonis would send him back to the place from whence he came, trading him to Florida in the package that yielded Roberto Luongo.

Best moment: Winning the Cylone Taylor award as Team MVP in 2006. It wasn’t the best season for the Canucks, who really had no excuse for failing to make the playoffs, but the play of Auld, which kept them in contention, was far and away the best (and possibly only) feel-good story of the 2005-06 season.

Edit: the Sedins’ emergence was nice too, I guess, but I’m still bitter about this season.

Worst moment: Getting traded back to Florida. Initially, it was believed that Auld would be the starter, but the team had other plans, bringing in Ed Belfour for the last NHL stop in his Hall of Fame career. Soon, Auld had competition, and not friendly competition. Belfour may have once assaulted Auld bad enough to send him to the hospital. But the official story is that Auld slipped on some water Belfour spilled.

3. CURTIS SANFORD

After frustrating the Canucks multiple times over a two-year period in St. Louis, Sanford signed a deal to become Roberto Luongo’s backup in Vancouver for the 2007-08 season. He appeared in 16 games, posting a 2.83 GAA.

It was enough to earn him a second tour, as the Canucks re-signed the netminder to back Luongo up once again in 2008-09, but things didn’t go as well the second time around. After Luongo went down with a groin strain, Sanford briefly assumed the starting job, but after suffering a few injuries of his own, the Canucks acquired Jason LaBarbera to hold down the fort. When Luongo returned, Sanford found himself the odd man out, and was waived. He spent the rest of the year playing for the Moose.

Best moment: The ‘Design Sanford’s mask’ contest. Apparently, it was all Sanford’s idea to stage a mask-designing contest for his second season with the Canucks, and it was a good idea — the fan response was massive. The final design was pretty cool too.

Worst moment: Losing his chance at an Alex Auld-like run as a fill-in. As a backup, you’re always waiting for your shot, and Sanford got his. But he couldn’t stay healthy. Runner up worst moment: getting run by Bean Eager, who has always been Ben Eager.

4. ANDREW RAYCROFT

Raycroft’s career started strong, as the Boston Bruins’ draftee won the 2004 Calder trophy as the NHL rookie of the year, but he couldn’t seem to replicate his success after the lockout, losing the starting job to none other than Tim Thomas. Think about that: if Raycroft could have held it together back then, Tim Thomas might not have been the Bruins’ goalie last June.

Raycroft was then traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Tuukka Rask. Seriously, this guy is the reason the Bruins are set in goal. Lame.

Things went so badly in Toronto that Raycroft eventually suffered the ultimate shame: losing the starting job to Vesa Toskala. His contract was bought out in June of 2008.

After another poor year in Colorado, the Canucks signed Raycroft to back up Roberto Luongo, giving him an opportunity to remind people he could play goal. He did exactly that, going 9-5-1 with a 2.42 goals against average and a .910 save percentage.

Best moment: His victory lap versus the Toronto Maple Leafs. After Roberto Luongo allowed three early goals in a Saturday night affair with the Leafs, Raycroft took over, shutting the door the rest of the way. When the Canucks stormed back to win the game, Raycroft made sure to salute the fans that had run him out of town.

Worst moment: After going 4-1 while Roberto Luongo missed time with an early-season injury, Raycroft lost a lot of goodwill when he gave up four goals in 13 first-period shots in a 6-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues. He wouldn’t play again for a month.

5. DANY SABOURIN

Sabourin was Roberto Luongo’s first backup in Vancouver, claimed off waivers by the Canucks just prior to the start of the 2006-07 season.

He didn’t play much, only getting into 9 regular-season games for the Canucks, two of them in relief, but when he was playing, you knew it. Canuck fans trusted Roberto Luongo with their lives back then; Sabourin was so terrifyingly not Luongo that his appearances were as suspenseful as watching John Carpenter’s Halloween.

Sabourin may not have been the most active goalie on the ice, but I suspect he was one of the first Canucks to embrace social media. Canucks.com forummers will remember the suspicious user, Sabou35, the “friend of Dany” who always seemed to know when Sabourin was starting before the media did.

Yeah. That was Sabourin.

Best moment: His first appearance versus the Anaheim Ducks, which was also his first NHL win in 12 starts.

Worst moment: The last appearance versus the Anaheim Ducks, five minutes of flawless but nail-biting relief for Roberto Luongo during double overtime in game 5 of the Canucks’ series with the Ducks. Luongo was trapped in the bathroom seeking a different sort of relief. Sure, Sabourin stopped all the shots he faced, but come on — that was as terrifying for him as it was for all of us.

*****

Honourable mentions: Jason LaBarbera didn’t make the cut, but he did win the backup job away from Curtis Sanford in 2008-09. If I recall correctly, he really liked Metallica. Drew MacIntyre only saw action in two games, both in relief, but he had the best “best moment” in the Canucks’ organization. In a game between the Canucks’ former affiliate Manitoba Moose and current affiliate Chicago Wolves, he scored the overtime-winner. For reals.

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21 comments

  1. SteveB
    November 23, 2011

    One of my favourites, during some very dark years in net was “Backup” Bob Essensa.

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  2. Guy@HockeyBias.com
    November 23, 2011

    What do you get when the canadian goons from the KHL’s Vityaz club go to a wedding? – Unpleasantries and a lot more (video):

    http://www.hockeybias.com/hockey-news-past/2011/November/Mirasty-and-Yablonski-vs-Drunken-Russians-video.html

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    • Harrison Mooney
      November 23, 2011

      Guy, please don’t advertise your stuff in our comments.

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  3. Chris
    November 23, 2011

    Though this was before the lockout, I had the distinct “honour” of seeing Alfie Michaud’s only career appearance live. Kevin Weekes left a game against Phoenix with a bit of a questionable injury, and Cloutier was already out hurt. So poor Alfie gets put in there, and gets promptly lit up for 4 goals by Roenick and the Coyotes. The only redeeming feature of that game was Sean Burke’s shutout at the other end being spoiled by Bill Muckalt at 19:59 of the third, though I think we were probably the only ones left in the building to see it.

    Manny Legace was also one of the less memorable Canuck backups who had success elsewhere. And no I’m not talking about that preseason tryout, he was a Canuck briefly a long time ago, but never actually got into a game.

    Probably the saddest story though is Rob “Moonlight Graham” MacVicar. If only he could’ve gotten to make a save all those years ago, maybe things would’ve been different. If only someone could ease his pain.

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    • J21
      November 23, 2011

      Cloutier wasn’t yet a Canuck when Kevin Weekes and Alfie Michaud were on the club. Snow was the other goalie until Weekes was traded for Felix Potvin.

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      • Chris
        November 24, 2011

        Oops, you’re right, it was Garth Snow who was out injured, when Weekes got his chance and failed spectacularly. Memory not what it used to be.

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  4. Roberto Luongo
    November 23, 2011

    Cory Schneider, great guy
    Andrew Raycroft, apple pie
    I love all my backups, oodles and oodles.
    Except Jamie Mclennan. noodles, noodles.
    First he fed me cannelloni,
    Then he ran me over with a zamboni

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    • Harrison Mooney
      November 23, 2011

      I want this comment from the real Roberto Luongo SO BAD.

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  5. J21
    November 23, 2011

    My order would be:

    1. Schneider
    2. Auld
    3. Raycroft
    4. Labarbera (short but pretty good)
    5. Sanford

    Maybe even switch Raycroft and Lababs too.

    Best moment: Winning the Cylone Taylor award as Team MVP in 2006. It wasn’t the best season for the Canucks, who really had no excuse for failing to make the playoffs, but the play of Auld, which kept them in contention, was far and away the best (and only) feel-good story of the 2005-06 season.

    Whoa whoa whoa, emergence of the Sedins as top scoring threats (and their chemistry with Anson Carter, whose final statline of 33 G, 22 A could not be more appropriate) doesn’t count?

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  6. DanD
    November 23, 2011

    I don’t know, I thought Dan Cloutier was pretty good for a backup goalie . . .

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  7. The Bookie
    November 23, 2011

    Yeah I thought Labarbera should have made #5, but it was worth it for that line about Luongo seeking a differrent kind of relief in the bathroom.

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    • Harrison Mooney
      November 23, 2011

      Sabourin narrowly edged him out for A) the bathroom incident and B) being a regular forum user under the guise of being his own closest friend.

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  8. Doug
    November 23, 2011

    Holy, I literally watched that video yesterday. Total coincidence, pretty cool.

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  9. Rituro
    November 23, 2011

    What, no Chris Levesque?

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    • Harrison Mooney
      November 23, 2011

      Pre-lockout.

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      • Rituro
        November 23, 2011

        Aw, darn. My bad. Carry on.

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  10. Zach Morris
    November 23, 2011

    Johan Hedberg?
    I wrote a speech about him
    :(

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    • Zach Morris
      November 23, 2011

      edit: post lockout, my bad.
      HE WAS STILL GREAT

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      • Zach Morris
        November 23, 2011

        edit of the edit:
        I meant, this article covers post lockout backups.

        ok, I’m done :(

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