| The January 11 match-up against Wayne Gretzky’s Phoenix Coyotes brought a number of firsts to the Garage. The Coyotes won here for the first time since February of 2000, the Canucks didn’t grab a point for the first time since November 1, 2007, and for the first time since April of 2006 a goalie not named Roberto Luongo started at General Motors Place.
Luongo thrives under a heavy workload. He started in every home game and all but six regular season games last year, setting a franchise record for most wins in a season. Those numbers bode well for the team, but not the backup goalie.
“I knew coming here the ice time situation wasn’t going to be the greatest for me, but I thought in terms of learning there would be no better place to learn but [by] playing with Roberto and having [goaltending consultant] Ian Clark,” said current Canucks backup goalie, Curtis Sanford.
Sanford spent the 2006-07 season splitting starts with the St. Louis Blues before signing with the Vancouver Canucks July 2, 2007.
The signing came as a pleasant surprise to the Ontario-native.
“At the end of the season I [returned] home on good terms with the management and the coaching staff, and I felt pretty confident that I was going to be back in St. Louis, but you know, things happen and people change their minds,” Sanford said.
The Blues opted instead to lock Manny Legace into the starting role, opening the door for the Canucks to sign Sanford.
“[It] was exciting to kind of surf the free-agent market and see what was out there…to see what other teams thought of you,” Sanford said. “I was thankful that Vancouver really stepped up to the plate.”
Vancouver’s brass couldn’t help but take the bait on the unrestricted free agent. Sanford excelled in his seven career match-ups against the Canucks, collecting a .951 save percentage en route to a 5-0-2 record.
“It just so happened that for a couple years [the Blues] played extremely well against Edmonton and Vancouver,” said Sanford. “It was always easy to get up for games, especially visiting the actual rinks. Coming into GM Place was always exciting.”
Now, night after night Sanford gets to experience the excitement from the front line.
“Coming to the rink, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing, it’s always a huge game. There’s the buzz around the city. It’s the main attraction,” Sanford said.
SINGING THE BLUES
In a multi-sport market, Sanford’s seasons with the Blues sang a different tune.
“In St. Louis there was the Cardinals, the St. Louis Rams…Sometimes [hockey] wasn’t the biggest ticket around,” Sanford said.
Vancouver’s 196 consecutive sellouts might indicate Canucks games are the ticket. But with the fan support comes more attention and media scrutiny. It’s a pressure that can make or break many an athlete. In Sanford’s case it’s been the former.
“It’s always good to have pressure on you. It gets you prepared to perform at your best,” Sanford said.
If his 38 save performance against the Coyotes is any indication, Sanford is at or near his best. Skating in a big shadow of arguably the league’s best goaltender has only helped to elevate Sanford’s game.
“Even though I haven’t been able to show it in so many games, I know I’ve made strides at making my game better for when I’m in [net],” Sanford said.
No doubt that working with Ian Clark has helped him develop better net awareness and gain more control in his reactions around the net.
ONWARD AND UPWARD
Sanford has built his career around improving and perfecting the fundamental parts of his game. Without that work ethic and determination the odds are he wouldn’t even be here.
Name a league and he’s probably played in it. Since 1996 he’s made stops in the OHL, UHL, ECHL and AHL. He didn’t get his first NHL contract until 2000 when the St. Louis Blues signed him as a free-agent.
His first call to the big leagues came two years later after Blues’ starting goaltenders Brent Johnson and Fred Brathwaite had gone down to injury. Sanford started the game behind fellow AHL goalie and call-up, Divis Reinhardt. Reinhardt had the Blues up 3-0 over the Columbus Blue Jackets before falling to injury himself, in the midst of a powerplay. Sanford stepped in and killed off the powerplay to maintain the win and hasn’t looked back.
Multiple injuries, four leagues, and countless call-ups and re-assignments later and Sanford finally has a place to call home. And that’s just the way we like it.
4 - Career shutouts
38 - Most saves in a game (in 2006 vs. DAL)
30 - Career wins
0 - Regulation losses in seven games vs. Vancouver
5 - Games in his longest undefeated streak, achieved twice
8 - Games marks his longest consecutive starts
28 - Years of age
Curtis Sanford Highlights