Learning from Luongo is Raycroft's not-so-hidden agenda
Andrew Raycroft has a grocery list of reasons why he wants to play for the Vancouver Canucks this season.
“Between the city, the organization and the chance to win, you’re at the top of all three criterias here,” said Vancouver’s 29-year-old free agent pick up, earlier this week.
Truth be told, Raycroft has a not-so-hidden agenda in wanting to play for the Canucks. He wants to learn and he wants to learn from the best.
As far back as the 2003-04 season when Raycroft was in his first year as a starter with the Boston Bruins, the team that drafted the Belleville, ON, product in the fifth round (135th overall) in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, the netminder has sang the praises of Roberto Luongo as loud as he could.
Raycroft has never tried to hide the fact that in his mind Luongo is the best thing to happen to goaltending since the inception of the goalie mask by Jacques Plante in 1959.
He paired that stream of thought with the realization that learning from Luongo would only make him better. Backing up the all-star Canucks netminder would mean significantly less games played, but to Raycroft that's a reasonable tradeoff.
“I’ve said it for a long time, I’m not just saying it because I’m here, I think he’s the best in the league. To be behind that and watch that on a daily basis is exciting to me.
“At this point in my career, I’d rather play 20 times on a great team behind a great goalie compared to 35 on a mediocre team – without a doubt. That was one of my thoughts going into the summer was I just wanted catch on with a team that’s not only just going to get to the playoffs, but is going to compete and have a real chance. Being able to learn from Roberto on top of that makes this is a great situation.”
While this has the makings of an ideal state of affairs for Raycroft, he is engaged in a dogfight for the backup position with former Canucks first-round pick Cory Schneider.
Who ultimately wins out in this battle remains to be seen and as of yet neither one has clearly leaped in front of the other.
Both Raycroft and Schneider appeared in half of Vancouver’s pre-season opener on Monday night in a 2-1 win over the New York Islanders, with Raycroft allowing one goal and Schneider earning an onion. Each netminder made a few great saves and that’ll have to continue Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights during the next three exhibition games.
If this backup duel is getting to Raycroft, he isn’t showing it. It’s the first time he’s ever been part of a camp where he didn’t have a shot at earning the starting role, but he’s no stranger to combat.
“I spent two and a half years in the minors so I did a whole lot of battling back then just to get my foot in the door, so it’s nothing new,” said Raycroft.
“There’s probably five, maybe six guys in the league that come into camp being the starter, whereas everyone else is battling for the starter job, battling for the backup spot or battling just to get on the team. That’s just kind of the way it is for most of us and you just go through it and work hard and try to get better everyday in camp.”
This is Raycroft’s fourth stop during his eight-year NHL career, one that he describes as “enjoyable.”
After he was part of the Bruins organization for five seasons, including the 2003-04 season in which he won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year after compiling a 29-18-9 record with a .926 S% and 2.05 GAA, Raycroft was traded to Toronto in exchange for netminder Tuukka Rask.
Two seasons and ninety-one regular season games without a playoff appearance later and Raycroft became an unrestricted free agent. He was quickly scooped up by Colorado, but failed to outperform Peter Budaj finishing with 31 appearances last year.
That brings him to Vancouver and another clean slate. He’s eager, enthusiastic and ready to learn from the best.
He’s also ready to win when called upon and help Vancouver in its quest for a Stanley Cup in any way possible.
“The Canucks had a great season last year and won the division, probably would have liked to have gone further in the playoffs and that’s exciting to be a part of.
“To have that bit of a swagger, but at the same time have that drive to know that the team was close last year is great. They’ve come back with most of the same guys to bring that to the next level and to be able to contribute in any way would be rewarding.”