One step back, two steps forward.
That’s how Panther goalie Craig Anderson looks back on his 2006-07 season. No bitterness. No regrets. And for the fact he went in one week last summer from possibly being the Panthers’ No. 2 man in goal to spending his season in the minors?
“It was a positive experience in every possible way.”
Anderson, who signed a two-year deal in June and will serve as backup come the 2007-08 season to Tomas Vokoun, has traveled a long, winding road the past two seasons. But the 6-2 goalie has finally landed on solid ground and in a stable situation.
“I think everyone is more comfortable,” Anderson, 26, said.
Anderson was acquired by the Panthers last July after a whirlwind 2005-06 season in which, along with playing 29 games for the Blackhawks, he was claimed off waivers in the span of 11 days by both the Bruins and Blues.
But just seven days after arriving in South Florida to seemingly serve behind Alex Auld, the Panthers signed Ed Belfour. Suddenly, Anderson was the odd man out. That meant a season playing for the Panthers’ American Hockey League affiliate in Rochester.
In retrospect, Anderson understands why the Panthers had uncertainty in goal last summer.
“I think part of it was both Alex and I were young,” Anderson recalled. “Alex had played around 60 games (67) in Vancouver (in 2005-06). I spent most of the year in Chicago as a backup but went through waivers a few times. I think (the Panthers) were covering their own assets. I think they were making sure they had the right combination in case there was an injury. They were just kind of covering their bases.”
Anderson didn’t sulk about being sent to Rochester. In fact, he wound up helping the Americans to the playoffs with a 23-10 record, a 2.21 goals against and .931 save percentage. When asked about his time in Rochester, Anderson replied; “In terms of development, it was a small step backward to take a big step forward.”
“Sometimes you have to take a step back in this game in order to progress,” said the Park Ridge, IlL., native. “I think going down there (in Rochester), taking it with a positive attitude, and playing a lot and kind of being a leader on the team and helping to bring along the young guys helped with my development.
“I don’t think I would have benefited as much staying (with the Panthers) and playing 15 games. The best thing for me was to go down and be the guy everyone counted on to get confidence and realize I can do anything, pretty much.”
Anderson, who was called up by the Panthers Feb. 19, played in only five games. But it was enough to show GM and coach Jacques Martin he belonged.
“Craig played very well in his backup role for our club during the later part of last season,” Martin said. “He is a diligent, focused and high character player who works hard to stay prepared night in and night out. We are confident both Craig and Tomas Vokoun will work well together and bring success to the organization.”