An­der­son has scaled icy cliff to league’s elite

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - JONAS SIEGEL

If first im­pres­sions stuck, Craig An­der­son wouldn’t be here help­ing the Ot­tawa Se­na­tors threaten a trip to the Eastern Con­fer­ence fi­nal.

From an em­bar­rass­ing los­ing streak at the start of his NHL ca­reer to a merry-go-round through waivers to tend­ing goal for some of the league’s worst teams, An­der­son had to work his way up from the bot­tom to reach this stage and join Hen­rik Lundqvist as one of the game’s elite.

“We know how good he is,” said Se­na­tors team­mate Mark Stone, “but I think some peo­ple don’t.”

An­der­son thinks that’s be­cause of a painful first im­pres­sion which saw him lose the first 13 de­ci­sions of his NHL ca­reer, and 17-of-18 over­all, as a mem­ber of his home­town Black­hawks. Born about 30 min­utes out­side Chicago in Park Ridge, Ill., and drafted in the third round by the club in 2001, An­der­son made his NHL de­but on Nov. 30, 2002 and didn’t earn a first win un­til Jan. 22, 2004.

“It’s tough for a goalie to get any cred­i­bil­ity when you’re on a bad team and los­ing all the time,” An­der­son said in a re­cent in­ter­view with The Cana­dian Press.

An­der­son chased starts for three sea­sons in Chicago be­hind the likes of Jo­ce­lyn Thibault, Michael Leighton and Niko­lai Khabibu­lin, be­fore he was fi­nally placed on waivers in Jan­uary of 2006. Within a crazy span of two weeks and a day, An­der­son bounced across waivers — from Bos­ton to St. Louis, and back to Chicago.

He was dealt to Florida that sum­mer.

“Goal­tend­ing is tim­ing,” said An­der­son, who helped the Se­na­tors take a 2-0 se­ries lead on New York with 43 saves in Game 2 on Satur­day.

“With a skater, there’s 18 skaters at any given time so there’s a lot more op­por­tu­nity for a younger guy to get in. With one goalie play­ing — if it’s a starter who’s 30 years old who’s go­ing to play 65, 70 games — your op­por­tu­nity is just not there.”

It wasn’t much of an op­por­tu­nity, but An­der­son played well as To­mas Vok­oun’s backup with the Pan­thers. He cred­its the turn­around to the shift in out­look he gleaned from Tim Thomas, a team­mate dur­ing his brief time with the Bru­ins.

Thomas was then an un­known 31-year-old for­mer Que­bec Nordiques draft pick who’d got­ten only a sniff of the NHL amid stints in Europe and the mi­nors.

An­der­son saw some­one who loved the game no less.

“It re­ally put my ca­reer in per­spec­tive,” said the now-35-year-old, a Master­ton tro­phy nom­i­nee this sea­son for his in­spired per­for­mance (.926 save per­cent­age) dur­ing wife Ni­cholle’s battle with cancer. An­der­son ditched a neg­a­tive out­look and opted to ap­proach life more op­ti­misti­cally — just as Thomas ap­par­ently did. His fel­low Amer­i­can net­min­der, who even­tu­ally won two Vez­i­nas, a Conn Smythe Tro­phy and Stan­ley Cup, was also proof that a goal­tender’s ca­reer wasn’t over at 30.

There was still time to turn the nar­ra­tive around and craft a new first im­pres­sion.

Af­ter two sea­sons with the woe­ful Avalanche — one good, one bad per­son­ally — An­der­son was fi­nally dealt to Ot­tawa, his sixth NHL team, for an­other goalie in Brian Elliott who hadn’t yet found his way.

An­der­son’s first im­pres­sion with the Se­na­tors: a 47-save shutout of the Maple Leafs.

Things “just snow­balled” from there and af­ter only 11 games in the black, red and gold, Ot­tawa signed him to a four-year ex­ten­sion worth al­most $13 mil­lion US.

An­other three-year con­tract — which ex­pires af­ter next sea­son and car­ries a bar­gain $4.2 mil­lion cap hit — fol­lowed af­ter that.

“Any time you can get that new first im­pres­sion it gives you an op­por­tu­nity to open up peo­ple’s eyes and say, ‘Hey, this is who I am’,” An­der­son said.

“When things get neg­a­tive and you’re not play­ing well, it’s a snow­ball ef­fect. Be­fore you know it the snow­ball’s too big, you can’t knock it down.”

The snow­ball has rolled the other way dur­ing an un­der­rated run in Ot­tawa — which saw ap­par­ent No. 1s of the fu­ture, such as Ben Bishop and Robin Lehner, tossed aside in favour of the guy who just kept get­ting bet­ter. An­der­son may not get the recog­ni­tion league-wide, but he’s been on the same level as Lundqvist since that de­but for Ot­tawa on Feb. 19, 2011:

Lundqvist: .922 save per­cent­age, .930 even-strength save per­cent­age, 30 shutouts

An­der­son: .920 save per­cent­age, .928 even-strength save per­cent­age, 24 shutouts

The only goalies with a bet­ter over­all save per­cent­age dur­ing the six-year run (min. 275 games): Carey Price (.924), Cory Sch­nei­der (.923), Tuukka Rask (.922), Braden Holtby (.922), and Lundqvist.

ADRIAN WYLD, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Se­na­tors goalie Craig An­der­son makes a save against the New York Rangers dur­ing Satur­day’s come-from-be­hind win in Ot­tawa.

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