Long road worth it to Sanford

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:01 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- In the spring of 2000, Curtis Sanford figured his playing days would next include textbooks.

Having finished his junior career with the OHL's Owen Sound Platers, missing the playoffs, his best guess was the NHL dream was all but dead and he'd be skating for a university team.

Then came the call to join the Missouri River Otters of the United Hockey League, a team based in a St. Louis suburb.

"I just wanted to make the most of it," Sanford said. "We didn't make the playoffs, so I was enjoying just being able to get back on the ice and keep playing that year. I didn't know what the following year would bring.

"The furthest thing from my mind was a contract. I thought I was going to university."

A half-dozen games in the league nicknamed the U-Haul turned into one playoff outing for the AHL's Rochester Americans that spring.

The St. Louis Blues signed him in the fall, and the climb began all the way to the spotlight he's under these days minding the twine for the Vancouver Canucks while all-world goalie Roberto Luongo is on the shelf with a groin injury.

"It's been a battle, but when people ask, 'Why would you want to be the backup in Vancouver?' the thing I say is I've worked extremely hard to get to where I am and I'm extremely proud of what I've accomplished," said Sanford, who was between the pipes against the Calgary Flames last night.

"I'm not going to settle on that, obviously, and the goal is to get better and start as many games as you can, but I'm happy with what I've been able to do so far, and hopefully, it continues."

The Canucks will be banking on Sanford's best for about a month while Luongo heals.

Luongo's play is a big reason Vancouver is atop the Northwest Division, while Sanford's job, starting with the home-and-home series against the Flames, will be to keep his team in that perch.

Sanford, 29, knows he'll be watched closely, but knows he can't get caught up in worrying about it.

It's not like Sanford, 29, is a raw rookie being used to hold the fort. He's a veteran of 95 NHL contests and shared netminding duties with Patrick Lalime and Manny Legace for a couple of seasons in St. Louis.

"We struggled in those years in St. Louis and I don't think there was as much pressure on us because we were in a rebuilding stage," he said. "Here, it's different. We're in first place right now and want to stay there and keep climbing the ladder."


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