No, the question everyone wants answered is why Sanford wanted the unenviable assignment of backing-up Roberto Luongo knowing full-well that the Canuck workhorse doesn’t take many nights off.
“That’s going to be a question I’m going to have to get used to, obviously. I had to look at where I was right now and, coming off a season where I had a torn groin, I probably didn’t play as much as I wanted to but I still managed to get in 30 games. But St. Louis decided to go in a different direction,” said Sanford on a conference call late Tuesday from his off-season home in Owen Sound, Ontario after signing with the Canucks as an unrestricted free agent. “I don’t feel like my playing days are over and I still aspire to play a lot of games in the NHL, but at this point of my career, I think it was a good idea to work under Roberto and work with Roberto. I still have a lot to learn and I’m still wanting to get better and that’s the main thing for me.”
Sanford played 31 games for the rebuilding Blues last season going 8-12-5 with a 3.18 goals against average and an 88.8 save percentage. But it was likely his 2005-06 numbers that left a lasting impression on Canuck management. Two years ago, the 27-year-old went 13-13-5 with a 2.66 GAA and a 90.8 save percentage. Included in those totals were four victories in four games against the Canucks during which Sanford gave up just three goals (0.90 GAA) and stopped 99 of the 102 shots he faced (97.1%).
“Curtis, after going through our assessment with our scouts and Ian Clark, he was the goaltender that we had targeted,” said Canucks Assistant General Manager Steve Tambellini. “We knew he had options and we weren’t 100% sure that he would say yes. We had spoken numerous times in the last couple of days and then found out this afternoon that he was excited to come. Our homework on him shows that he’s a great teammate, very supportive, and has great work habits. We’re looking for quality obviously, not quantity, with someone playing with Roberto.”
After four years of junior with his hometown team in Owen Sound, Sanford has played in just about professional league in North America. He’s seen time with Missouri of the United Hockey League, Peoria of the East Coast Hockey League, Worcester of the American Hockey League and has a total of 73 games at the National Hockey League level (all with the Blues). So the father of two young sons has bounced around a little. But he’s hoping he’s found a home in Vancouver and a one-way offer was what made him choose the Canucks.
“There were quite a few teams. We had a couple of two-way offers, but really looking at that, I’m 27 and I’m not getting any younger and I’m not too keen on riding any busses any more in the minors. That had a lot to do with it -- I’m not going to lie,” Sanford said. “At the end, the NHL is the NHL and there’s only 60 jobs (for goaltenders). It’s an elite group of goalies to be a part of and I’m going to get to play with one of the best in the game and with a team that made strides last year and is looking to make strides again this year.”
By signing with the Canucks, Curtis Sanford remains in the Western Conference where he’s familiar with the shooters he’ll face and the buildings he’ll play in. For goaltenders like Sanford, routine is key and being comfortable in his surroundings puts him ahead of the game when trying to settle into a new hockey home.
“I’ve had good success against Vancouver and in the city of Vancouver. It was nice that the Canucks showed a lot of confidence in me by getting the ball rolling,” Sanford said. “When a team is that keen you have to take that into consideration. I’m really excited to be a Vancouver Canuck.”
And the Canucks are excited that Sanford saw the chance to back-up Roberto Luongo as a positive. “If you’re looking at it from a development standpoint, how do you not get better working with one of the best? He was very excited about that,” said Tambellini.
Sanford says the groin injury that ended his season prematurely has healed well and he’s working with a Toronto-area sports physiotherapist to make sure he’s 100% by the time training camp rolls around. He’s going to work with a goalie coach on his own for a couple of weeks in August before joining the Canucks and starting his new assignment.
With Roberto Luongo as the foundation of the franchise, Curtis Sanford has no idea how many starts he’ll get in the Canuck net next season. But he’s okay with that and he’s ready to make the most of whatever opportunities he gets.
Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight. E-mail him at email@example.com