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Raycroft seeking to claim major role in Dallas net

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

After spending last season backing up one of the NHL’s best netminders, a job that requires a lot of sitting at the end of the bench, Andrew Raycroft is excited at the opportunity to earn himself additional playing time in 2010-11.

Signed as an unrestricted free agent on July 1, the former Canucks goaltender, 30, will duel with Brent Krahn for the backup goaltending job in Dallas behind starter Kari Lehtonen. The player that ends up on the short end of that battle will head to the Stars’ AHL affiliate three hours away based in the Austin suburb of Cedar Park to serve as the main man there. 

“We made the decision that we wanted to get a veteran backup in here, with Austin or with our club,” stated Stars General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk. “Our number one goal is to have competition for our backup role here and that’s what we’ve created - not just in training camp, but throughout the year.”

“I think the opportunity is equally as good between Raycroft and Krahn with who’s going to grab that backup position,” added Stars goaltending coach Mike Valley. “That competition becomes so important because it just makes each guy push that much harder. Obviously, Raycroft has had some success in the NHL, but he’s also been on several teams. It’s going to be a good opportunity for him, I’m excited to have him.” 

That cache of NHL experience, over 250 games worth in his 10 professional seasons, probably gives a bit of an edge to Raycroft, who won the league’s Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year in 2003-04 with Boston. 

“I think, obviously, it’s not going to hurt me,” Raycroft said of his lengthy resume. “I plan to do a job and do it well, but it’s definitely not my first training camp, and I’m looking forward to showing my stuff. You look around the league and you see the way things are now and you look for opportunities and when you get them, you do the best you can with them. You stick around and you work hard - that’s kind of my mentality at this point. I’m looking forward to contributing and playing well.” 

Besides the fact that the Stars’ second goalie can probably expect about 25-30 starts, there also looms the possibility that the position might require even more games, given Lehtonen’s past history of injury problems.

And if so, Raycroft, who didn’t get much of a chance to shine playing behind star Roberto Luongo in Vancouver last season, believes he has the ability to carry the load if necessary.

“I went through a couple of stretches where you don’t play a lot, but as the year ended, I got to play a little bit more and yeah, that fire (to play every day) does burn,” noted Raycroft, who started 14 games in 2009-10, fashioning a 9-5-1 record with a 2.42 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage in 21 total appearances. “It’s fun to get in there, it’s fun to compete and win hockey games. Definitely, I believe I have a lot left. I’m probably at least mid-way or maybe just past mid-way in my hockey career, but I believe I have a lot left and a lot of experience behind me that could go a long way.”

Because Raycroft has been a number one goalie in the NHL before, his experience in that role is another advantage for him over Krahn, who has just one 20-minute appearance in the world’s top league over the course of his seven-year pro career.

“One year with Toronto (2006-07), he played 72 games, so having that in your back pocket, having that experience is obviously a comfort thing for us,” said Valley. “And obviously, he knows himself that he can do it. We have no doubt that a guy like Brent Krahn can do something like that as well, but having that experience becomes such a valuable thing.”

“I think the fact that he’s got NHL experience is important,” Nieuwendyk said. “He’s played with Luongo and he’s played with some top goaltenders. I think, from our standpoint, it was important to have a veteran guy who can help us with both clubs, if need be.”

A 6-foot-0, 173-pound native of Belleville, Ontario, Raycroft has endured a roller coaster of a career to this point. He burst onto the scene as a rookie, posting a 29-18-9 record with the Bruins in 2003-04 and finishing within the league’s top 10 with a 2.05 GAA and a sparkling .926 SP. But after the lockout that cost the NHL the 2004-05 season, Raycroft had a difficult time regaining his rookie form and struggled. 

Boston ended up trading him to Toronto, where he registered a career-high 37 victories in ‘06-07. But Raycroft lost his starting job to Vesa Toskala the next season, and moved on to Colorado in 2008-09 before winding up in Vancouver last year. His solid season backing up Luongo was important for him to maintain his reputation as a big-league netminder, and he hopes to continue that momentum here in Dallas.

As for Lehtonen, he respects what Raycroft has accomplished and looks forward to working with him.

“He worked with Luongo last year and he’s a veteran guy and he’s going to come here and push me to play better and I’m going to try to push him,” said Lehtonen, who was acquired from Atlanta on Feb. 9. “I think we have three guys here who can play in the NHL and who really want to play, so I think it’s a great situation. That’s the main thing - what makes goalies better is when you have somebody pushing you and you have to go the extra mile to earn the ice time. That’s good.”

But before he has the chance to contribute to the parent club and possibly impinge on Lehtonen’s playing time, Raycroft will first have to fend off a determined Krahn in training camp.

“I don’t think anybody should be handed anything,” Nieuwendyk said. “And Andrew, I talked to him earlier, he wants that job, so I think that’s healthy. It’s going to push Brent Krahn to be better.”

“There’s going to be competition in camp and it’s really no different than every other year,” Raycroft acknowledged. “I was in the same situation last year in Vancouver. I’m looking forward to having a good rest of the summer and getting in there in September and doing the job.”

And truthfully, whether he wins the backup spot or not, his presence in the organization will only help all the goalies keep that competitive edge as they push each other for precious time between the pipes.

“It’s not nice that only one goalie can play, but it’s only fair,” Lehtonen pointed out. “If you’re playing better than the other guy, you get your ice time and you get to be the guy.”

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