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Black Aces: A Goalie Under Siege, Craig Anderson Fights For His Legacy

Even a routine Sunday night in Las Vegas can be eventful.

While most Ottawa fans were curled up on a couch after the first snowy day of late October, Senators goalie Craig Anderson was in eternally sunny Vegas facing 53 shots as the Golden Knights stormed his end of the ice with ease. Anderson was incredible, turning aside 49 shots with his glove, his stick, his pads and even his head.

Somehow, it still wasn’t enough.

Such is the life of a goalie on a rebuilding NHL team. Vegas won the game on a penalty-shot in overtime and Anderson quickly skated off the ice as the Golden Knights and their fans celebrated like it was New Year’s Eve. We didn’t get to see Anderson walking back down that tunnel to the dressing room, but it’s a safe bet he didn’t kick any garbage cans or annihilate an innocent stick rack like some goalies have been known to do in similar circumstances.

“I’m too old for drama.”

That was Anderson’s quote to the media when he was finally asked about rumours he requested a trade over the summer. The question was never answered head-on, and nobody seemed to want to push it any further. After all, it was awkward. If he didn’t want to be in Ottawa, it was painfully obvious that his wish hadn’t been granted. Anderson showed up to training camp, stated his case in as few words as possible and got down to the business at hand – forced to be the MVP of a club who’ve suddenly decided to tear it all down and go with teenagers.

Anderson is 37. He’s coming off the worst year of his career statistically, and only a few seasons removed from when his wife Nicholle fought – and won – a battle with cancer. We’re not talking about a wide eyed, “just happy to be in the NHL” player here. This is a guy who’s been through hell and back a few times over. He’s come within a single goal of the Stanley Cup Final and just a few rungs from rock-bottom in the span of 365 days. If he hasn’t seen it all, he’s probably seen enough.

He knows these last two years of his contract could be his swan song with Ottawa, and the NHL entirely. While coming to the end of an obviously successful career, who can blame him for wanting to skip the dramatics? A private guy off the ice, we do know that he’s a rabid Corvette racing fan and will likely settle down in Florida, a racing mecca, with his family when his time in The Show is over.

Yet his legacy as a goalie in Ottawa is still unknown. He doesn’t have the burden of being Patrick Lalime, who ended on a down note when the Toronto Maple Leafs ended his great run here with a Game 7 shellacking in the 2004 playoffs. He hasn’t been overly injury prone, like Pascal Leclaire, and briefly, Dominik Hasek. He doesn’t have the fiery personality of Robin Lehner or the late Ray Emery. He doesn’t yet have the cult appeal of old-timers like Ron Tugnutt or Damian Rhodes.

He’s simply been a quiet pro during his reign in Ottawa, and that might be why his alleged trade request in the summer threw everyone off-balance. Probably none more so than GM Pierre Dorion, who was running out of water to throw on various fires engulfing his plush Kanata office.

Whatever transpired between the Senators and Anderson this summer, this looks like a relationship that’s going to go the distance. There’s no obvious replacement in the system, other than 20 year old Filip Gustavsson. For comparison’s sake, Anderson didn’t play a single game in the NHL until he was 21, and he was 28 years old before he became a dependable number one goalie in Colorado. Gustavsson has a long way to go before he loses even half the hair that Anderson has.

In the early going, Anderson is earning his pay. Only one team in the entire league gives up more shots than Ottawa, and Anderson has been out there night after night getting pounded. It’s now highly unusual for him to face less than 35 shots. If he has an off-night, the Sens lose. If he stands on his head, like he did in Las Vegas, the Senators merely have a chance. Those are odds only a Vegas bookie could love.

While many complain that goalies as a whole have been coddled over the years, allowed to wear ridiculously bulky equipment that has choked the scoring out of the game, it’s still not a profession where the accolades just pile up around your crease unsolicited.

It’s still a grind. Ron Tugnutt once faced 73 shots in a game while he was with the Quebec Nordiques and all anyone talks about is his funny name. Billy Smith won four Stanley Cups but all they remember is him slashing Wayne Gretzky (among many others).

How will Craig Anderson be remembered years from now when all these petty dramas are long forgotten?

If he can miraculously get this undermanned Ottawa team into the playoffs, that might be a good place to start.

 

By Jeremy Milks

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