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Curry's battle brings him to NHL

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Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2008
 

As labels go, the one applied to goaltender John Curry by many important people within the Penguins organization could mean more than what it simply suggests.

"He's a battler," general manager Ray Shero said, which is not to suggest Curry will battle for an NHL roster spot upon the return to health of No. 1 goalie Marc-Andre Fleury -- still "day-to-day," according to coach Michel Therrien, with an undisclosed injury.

"He battles," goaltending coach Gilles Meloche said, a statement that serves as neither a positive nor negative assessment about technique and positioning that Curry admits he must improve.

"He'll battle to the final horn," assistant general manager Chuck Fletcher said during training camp, when he would not discredit a possible scenario in which Curry becomes an fixture in Pittsburgh in coming seasons.

This season, though, Curry is simply thrilled for an opportunity to practice with NHL-tested players. If the opportunity to play against them presents itself -- well, chances are he'll battle.

That opportunity will only present itself at Nassau Coliseum tonight if goaltender Dany Sabourin -- 1-1-1 with a 2.34 goals-against average and .924 save percentage over three consecutive starts in Fleury's absence -- either falters dramatically or is injured against the New York Islanders.

However, Shero made one point clear Tuesday during the Penguins' practice session at Mellon Arena.

Battlin' man
Penguins GM Ray Shero described goaltender John Curry as "a kid who's been the underdog his whole career -- from his days at Boston University to his current distinction as the Penguins' backup. A statistical glance at Curry's road to the NHL:
Year Team Record GAA SV% Notable
2004-05 Boston (NCAA) 18-11-3 2.00 .922 Runner-up Hockey East POY
2005-06 Boston (NCAA) 24-8-4 2.24 .918 Runner-up Hockey East POY
2006-07 Boston (NCAA) 17-10-8 2.01 .928 Finalist Hobey Baker Award
2007-08 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) 24-12-3 2.23 .915 Calder Cup final
2008-09 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) 3-4-0 3.36 .897 First NHL promotion
Source: HockeyDB.com, Pittsburgh Penguins

"(Curry) wouldn't be with us if we didn't think he could handle that situation," Shero said. "He's the backup right now. That means he's the next guy if Sabourin has to come out or can't go.

"You don't hand that responsibility to a guy if you don't think he can handle it."

Curry's personal history indicates he has a knack for surprising folks.

"It's important for a goalie to be able to battle through a lot of things," Curry said. "It's just something I've always had to do in order to be competitive with my size."

The Penguins list Curry, 24, at 5-feet-11. A glance at how much space he doesn't take up in the net offers reason to believe that listing is erroneous.

What he has always lacked in stature, Curry has made up for with a steely determination to totally drain the last drop from his well of talent.

He capped a stellar-if-surprising collegiate career at Boston University with a Hobey Baker Award-finalist season in 2006-07, but recognition as one of the premier college hockey players in the United States did not guarantee him a professional career.

Without fanfare, he signed with the Penguins on July 13, 2007, and entered training camp last season as an unlikely candidate to make an impact with AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, which needed a backup to veteran starting goaltender Ty Conklin.

Curry was way behind on offseason training due to a hip injury from his final college season, which didn't give him a leg up on heralded former Notre Dame goaltender David Brown in that backup battle.

Fate -- an injury to, coincidentally, Fleury last December that paved route for Conklin's return to the NHL -- and performance beyond expectations (a 24-12-3 record with a 2.33 GAA in 40 regular-season AHL appearances) combined to fuel Curry's turn in leading Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to the Calder Cup final last May.

Six months later, Fleury's latest injury helped Curry reach the NHL.

Time for a pinch?

"Not really," Curry said. "There are a lot of situations where guys get breaks here or there, and that's how they get their starts. That's just how the NHL works.

"My goal is to be in the NHL full-time. I'm not going to be satisfied with this call-up just like I'm never satisfied if I have a good stretch in the AHL.

I'll be satisfied when I'm done playing."

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