Goalie goes from Flame-out to on fire

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:54 PM ET

Just the latest of a number of former Flames prospects to shine for other teams, Craig Anderson can hardly remember his time in Calgary.

Selected 77th overall in the third round of the 1999 NHL draft, the only time the goaltender may have donned the Flaming C after that day might have been a rookies-only contest against the Edmonton Oilers.

Unable to come to an agreement with the Flames, Anderson’s professional career stalled right out of the gate as he was tossed back into the draft in 2001.

“I vaguely remember. I don’t think we were close (to an agreement),” the year’s early-season success story said yesterday before his Colorado Avalanche battled the Flames at the Saddledome. “I think they had a change in management. The management that drafted me wasn’t there anymore, and they drafted Brent Krahn in the first round.

“We just didn’t come to terms — I don’t remember what it was, but nothing got closed off.”

With nine wins and just one regulation loss in 12 starts for the Avs prior to last night’s action, the 28-year-old is finally enjoying the spotlight thanks to an impressive .940 save percentage and 1.96 goals-against average despite facing more shots than any other goalie so far.

It was a long and twisted road that brought him here.

Scooped up on his second draft day by the Chicago Blackhawks — six spots earlier than where the Flames first took him two years previously — Anderson seemed to have just as much trouble breaking into the league as he did signing with the Flames.

Six starts and no wins with the Hawks in 2002-03 — a save percentage of .856 and goals-against average of 4.00.

Just a half-dozen victories in his second season with a .905 save percentage and 2.84 GAA.

Improved numbers as a backup in the minors during the lockout brought hope the 6-foot-2, 180-pound netminder had discovered the keys to success for a stopper, but his start to the 2005-06 season was as ugly as his rookie performances — two wins in 15 games, an .866 save percentage and inflated 3.90 GAA.

Not what the Park Ridge, Il., product imagined after earning a second chance when drafted by his hometown Hawks.

“I think playing in your hometown when you’re that young, there’s a lot of distractions. It could have been a detriment to my early start,” Anderson said. “Sometimes when you play in a different city away from your family and friends, you can focus more on hockey. For me it was a little bit tough with the distractions of having a lot of people around.

“My first year pro, I had a real tough go.”

His third season might have been the most difficult of all.

Hitting the waiver wire three times in a span of three weeks, Anderson became property of the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues before re-joining the Hawks.

His numbers took off from there and he hasn’t looked back, finally earning a starting job with the Avs this season after more than four seasons as one of the most impressive backups in the league with the Hawks and Florida Panthers.

“It took a couple of steps backwards to go big leaps forward,” said Anderson, who signed a two-year, $3.6-million deal with the Avs as a free agent this summer and has started every single game so far with incredible results. “Sometimes you need to be humbled a little bit. Sometimes you need to get knocked down a little bit for you to realize your mistakes and what you need to work on.”

The waiver-wire whiplash resulted in a new self-confidence when he posted a 4-4-1 record over his last 15 games with the Hawks before an off-season trade put him behind Ed Belfour and Alex Auld in Florida.

Sent to the minors, he focused on proving he was too good to be an American Hockey League fixture and earned the opportunity to back up Tomas Vokoun the next couple of seasons.

Seeing enough to make Anderson an offer on the second day of free agency, the Avalanche may have scored the steal of the summer.

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca


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