Manitoba Moose head coach Mark Morrison admits to having no knowledge of the existence of Evan Cormier two weeks ago.
Now, he defines him as the American Hockey League squad’s primary puckstopper.
Cormier officially joined the fold Jan. 2, coming from the Newfoundland Growlers of the ECHL to a team desperate for goaltending help. Mikhail Berdin and Arvid Holm were both in COVID-19 protocol and unavailable for a pair of home games with the Iowa Wild.
He was immediately tasked with guarding the crease at Canada Life Centre the day he arrived and shone brightly in his debut, stopping 29 of 30 shots in a 2-1 Manitoba triumph over Central Division-rival Iowa.
The good times keep rolling for the 24-year-old product of Bowmanville, Ont., who is 3-0-1 in four consecutive starts since signing with the Moose, and he’s been pencilled in for Wednesday’s assignment in Milwaukee against the Admirals.
"Because everything’s been so unpredictable in terms of how the testing goes and COVID and the protocols, I’m looking at it right now as he’s our starting goalie, so he is gonna start the next game and we’ll go from there," Morrison said Monday.
Cormier was between the pipes for back-to-back victories against the Stars in H-E-B Center at Cedar Park, Texas, over the weekend. The Moose wrap up a six-game road trip Jan. 19 in Iowa.
"I didn’t (know him). The guy that knew him was our goalie coach, Drew McIntyre, and (Moose general manager) Craig Heisinger. They knew him but I certainly didn’t. But tell you what, I’m glad he’s here because the last two games in Texas, I don’t think we would have come out of there with many points without him," added Morrison.
Cormier, a fourth-round draft pick (105th overall) of New Jersey in 2016, has split the last four seasons between the ECHL and AHL, although he suited up for three NHL games as a backup for the Devils during the 2019-20 season. The Devils did not offer him a qualifying offer last summer. He joined the Growlers in October and was 10-2-1 with Newfoundland before inking an AHL tryout deal with the Moose, who came calling out of sheer necessity.
“... tell you what, I’m glad he’s here because the last two games in Texas, I don’t think we would have come out of there with many points without him.” — Manitoba Moose head coach Mark Morrison
The team’s quandary created a golden opportunity for the 6-3, 205-pound goalie.
"Things happen so fast in this game, especially with so much unknown in the world right now. I’m just happy to be here and excited for the opportunity," Cormier said. "My hockeyDB (page) has a lot going on but things have been great. My development with (the Devils organization) was essential for me and I really felt like I took off last year, and coming here with the (Winnipeg) Jets and Moose (18-9-2), I’m just trying to make a statement and prove myself and show I belong (in the AHL)."
Cormier has goal prevention in his blood, sort of. His father and brother were goalies as youngsters, and his father’s step-brother is Ron Tugnutt, whose 16-year NHL career (1987-2004) included stops in Quebec, Edmonton, Anaheim, Montreal, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Columbus and Dallas.
"I started out as a defenceman but I played goalie so much in road hockey I wanted to make the switch," he said, laughing. "I talk to (Ron) as much as I can. My grandma (Linda Tugnutt, Ron’s mother) tells all these stories about him, the career path he took and how well he did. I try and take as much advice as I can from them."
Cormier said he listened to his grandma, against the advice of his representatives at the time, when a decision to either attend the 2016 NHL Draft or steer clear of Buffalo needed to be made.
“Things happen so fast in this game, especially with so much unknown in the world right now. I’m just happy to be here and excited for the opportunity." — Evan Cormier
"My agent at the time was telling me they don’t really know what will happen at the draft, so that’s when I gave her a call and told her what the situation was, " he said. Going into the draft, he was the 11th-ranked North American goaltender by Central Scouting. "She said, "I think you should really go, and go for the experience. If you don’t get picked, it’s not the end of the world.’ They went through the same thing with Ron and they wanted me to go through that experience."
Uncle Ron was selected by the Nordiques in the fourth round (81st overall) in 1986.
"We ended up going and I was selected by the Devils and I was in awe. It was amazing," he recalled. "Being at the draft, walking across the floor and shaking everyone’s hand. It was an unbelievable experience."
His first of three NHL call-ups came Dec. 14, 2019 in Arizona, serving as Mackenzie Blackwood’s backup against the Coyotes after an injury to Louis Domingue a day earlier in Denver.
"We won 2-1 and I was so excited," he said. "Same kind of situation about a month later (Jan. 11, 2020) in Washington, that was pretty awesome being able to see (Alex) Ovechkin first hand, one of the greatest scorers of all time, and it’s obviously my dream to play at that level and face those types of players."
Two postponed games prior to Christmas between the Moose and Stars have been rescheduled.
The AHL squads will play Monday, Feb. 7 and Wednesday, Feb. 9 in Texas. Both contests begin at 7 p.m.
The games were originally slated for Dec. 21 and 22.
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