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Backup goaltender spot not a given for Rask

Posted By Joe Haggerty On September 14, 2009 @ 3:38 pm In General | 4 Comments

There’s a been a great deal of assuming that the Boston Bruins backup goaltender spot has already been pre-ordained to Finnish phenom Tuukka Rask, but that seems to be a classic case of overstating the case. Rask is highly touted, and deserving of the plaudits after a pair of seasons fine-tuning his game with the Providence Bruins, but B’s coach Claude Julien said that Thomas’ backup is a wide open job search.

The B’s coach indicated there’s a wide-ranging competition among the five goaltenders without a Vezina Trophy for the role as backup to Tim Thomas, but the competition is solely a two-man race between journeyman Sabourin and vaunted prospect Rask. The 29-year-old Sabourin has played in 57 NHL games with a career 2.88 goals against average and an .898 save percentage, and appeared in 19 games with the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins last season as a backup to Marc-Andre Fluery.

Sabourin certainly isn’t the answer for the B’s goaltending future, but he’s proven an ability handle the backup role without a major drop-off in performance. Not the easiest of tricks for a young goaltender. 

Rask, meanwhile, is a 22-year-old prototype right out of the Finland goalie factory with a long, lean frame and a wide butterfly stance that envelops the bottom half of the net. Rask and Montreal’s Carey Price were, in fact, considered the two best young goaltending prospects in the world under the age of 21 just a few short years ago, and Rask has markedly improved his strength and skill during a two-year apprenticeship with the P-Bruins.

All that being said, the young prospect is going to need to impress the B’s coaching staff with his dilligence, attitude and effort much like he did last season while playing like best goaltender in Boston’s camp. The youngster was sent down to Providence — and was spitting nails nearly all the way back — but put his head down and pulled together a solid season at the AHL level complete with a nice postseason run to boot.

Rask has proven himself in the minors, but now the 6-foot-2, 171-pounder needs to show the necessary skills to back up Thomas. The Tank’s netminding understudy will easily play between 30-40 games this season — a workload that would serve as the perfect way to introduce Rask to the NHL in easily-digestible bite-sized pieces.

While it’s the perfect scenario to break in the young phenom, Julien needs to see Rask take hold of an NHL netminding job opportunity with both hands.

“I think Tuukka has to understanding that he’s got a great opportunity here. He’s got to seize it,” said Julien. “He’s got some competition. There’s a guy by the name of Sabourin that’s got some experience in this league. There are several goalies here pushing, but we all know realistically that it’s Sabourin and Rask in competition to see who’s working with Timmy this year.”

Is it a given that Rask wins the job, and Sabourin starts the year with the Baby B’s in Providence?

“Absolutely not,” said Julien without missing a beat. “That much I can tell you, truthfully.”


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