COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Curtis McElhinney is making an early case for comeback player of the year in the American Hockey League, mere months after the word "retirement" crept into his mind.
The veteran netminder has been one of the many bright spots for the first-place Springfield Falcons, who lead the Northeast Division as well as the AHL's Eastern Conference through seven games. He was named the league's Goaltender of the Month for October in a release issued by the AHL this afternoon.
Such recognition for McElhinney comes less than a year after major abdominal surgery that caused him to miss most of the 2011-12 season, and forced him to legitimately ponder life after hockey.
"When I went into surgery, I didn't know what the percentages were," McElhinney told BlueJackets.com. "It was a wait-and-see situation until everything was said and done. Obviously, it worked out alright.
"It was a pretty scary moment when you start contemplating that stuff seriously, but hey, everything worked out and I'm thrilled to be back playing."
McElhinney, 29, owns a 5-1-0 record and is tied for most wins by a goaltender in the entire AHL. His last outing was on Sunday afternoon against his former club, the Portland Pirates, and he made 26 saves in a 3-2 win as the Pirates pushed hard down the stretch.
If folks are surprised by the Falcons' hot start, they need to look no further than the goaltender. McElhinney holds the fifth-best goals-against average in the AHL (1.51) and also the fourth-best save percentage (.949), giving his teammates a larger margin for error.
"Everyone's on the same page and working together," McElhinney said. "They're so committed to doing everything right. We're breaking pucks out quickly, blocking shots, and on top of that they're scoring three or four goals a game. That makes any goalie's life a little bit easier."
Blue Jackets fans remember McElhinney's name as early as February, when he was part of a deal with the Phoenix Coyotes that also saw two draft picks sent to Columbus. The Blue Jackets had interest in his services at the time, but his injury prohibited him from taking the ice in an organized setting until training camp.
On July 1, McElhinney was one of Columbus' first transactions as he signed a two-way deal. He's given Springfield exactly what they were looking for: an established, professional goaltender that can play a lot of games and give them a chance to win every night.
"(The honor) is certainly a nice reflection of our good start and how committed everyone has been here," McElhinney said. "Especially in those one-goal games, you make a key save and then the guys come right back to score and give you a cushion...that shows how well things have been going for us.
"It's an indication, too, of how everyone has bought into the systems and structure our coaching staff has put into place."