Jackets pursuing Knights' Rook

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:04 AM ET

The Columbus Blue Jackets have narrowed their NHL goaltending coach search to one man.

It's Dave Rook of the London Knights.

Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson told the Columbus Dispatch that star goalie Steve Mason's long-time mentor is the only person the team is talking to and hopes to hammer out the final details in a matter of days.

"I'm still under contract with St. Louis and nothing's been confirmed," Rook said yesterday before hitting the ice as an instructor at the Western Fair Sports Centre. "As far as I'm concerned, I'm still employed by the London Knights."

Rook just completed his seventh season with the Knights by splitting time between London and Peoria, Ill., while serving as the St. Louis Blues goaltending consultant.

"We talked to people in St. Louis and London and obviously we talked to Steve, and he came highly recommended," Howson told the Dispatch.

Rook has a family camping trip planned and won't be flying to Las Vegas for the NHL awards show next Thursday. Mason is a favourite for the Calder Trophy as outstanding rookie and also up for the Vezina Trophy as top goalie.

"Steve had a very good first year when there weren't any expectations on him," Rook said, "but next season will be even tougher because now that kind of performance will be expected of him."

Rook is expected to replace Clint Malarchuk, who he called instrumental in helping him get the St. Louis job. The Blue Jackets goaltending crop included Mason and former OHLers Kevin Lalande and Dan LaCosta.

Rook said he has never really entertained NHL aspirations.

"I've always been happy to work in London and do my (goalie) schools," he said. "Doing the American Hockey League was OK. I have two kids at home, but it wasn't too bad. I wasn't away for very long. The NHL, I always viewed as not as much about development, that guys were more set in their ways."

Part of the Columbus negotiations is a check to see if he can retain his Knights gig. The Knights, in a habit of re-signing Rook to a one-year contract each off-season, would not confirm a goalie coach vacancy.

"Dave's a good man," London GM Mark Hunter said. "Good coach."

The London area has been a hotbed for puckstopping gurus recently. Strathroy's Steve McKichan -- a former Rook teammate in junior B -- is a former Toronto Maple Leafs goalie coach and Londoner Bill Dark served in that capacity for the Memorial Cup-winning Windsor Spitfires this year.

The Knights open their 2009-10 regular season at home Sept. 18 against the defending champion Spitfires. Windsor will raise their banners the night before at home against the Plymouth Whalers.

London remains in negotiation with first-round draft pick Scott Harrington. The talented six-foot, 175-pound defenceman from Kingston attended London's mini-camp two weeks ago and could be signed as early as tomorrow.

His arrival would help shore up one of the Knights' biggest concerns on defence.

Goaltending will again be a major question mark.

Trevor Cann has been signed by goaltending-poor Colorado. Daryl Borden is eligible to return as an over-ager.

One possibility is 16-year-old Michael Houser, a six-foot-two puckstopper from Wexford, Mich., who posted a sparkling .902 save percentage for a bad Des Moines Buccaneers team in the United States Hockey League this season.

Houser, who attended the recent Knights mini-camp, finished 5-18 with a 4.02 goals against average, but made 40-plus saves in 11 of the 32 games he appeared for the Bucs.


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