AVON. CONN. — AVON, Conn. -- Players who spent last season in Binghamton, N.Y., rave about the job Daryl Reaugh did for the minor-league Hartford Whalers.
"By the end of the season, he was the best goalie in the AHL," teammate Terry Yake said.
Yake is talking about a guy whose goals-against average was an unspectacular 4.21, whose record in 52 games was 8-31-6.
But Reaugh is proving in the Whalers' training camp that numbers don't always indicate ability.
Reaugh has been the best goalie in camp so far -- better than incumbent Peter Sidorkiewicz and better than Kay Whitmore, Reaugh's main competition for the backup job in Hartford this season. Through four days of scrimmages, Reaugh has allowed only one goal. Sidorkiewicz has allowed seven, Whitmore 11.
"He hasn't hurt himself as far as chances go," General Manager Ed Johnston said. "He's playing very well."
Reaugh (pronounced Ray) has been impregnable. Just ask Scott Young, who had what appeared to be a sure goal taken away by Reaugh in Tuesday morning's scrimmage. Young received a cross-ice pass and was alone at the far corner of the crease. He one-timed his shot low but Reaugh slid over in time to make a pad save.
"I couldn't have gotten it off any faster," Young said. "He just got there too quickly."
Reaugh has shown quickness. His size is obvious. At 6-foot-4, he is the tallest goalie in camp and makes the net an awfully small target.
Of course, it is far too early to say Reaugh has earned a job in Hartford. There are nine exhibition games, starting with tomarrow's game at Norfolk, Va., against the Washington Capitals.
As Coach Rick Ley pointed out, "Camp isn't over. It is far from over. Sometimes people aren't real good practice goaltenders. But you get them into competition against people other than their friends and they respond favorably."
Reaugh realizes the first four days of camp won't mean much if he doesn't do well in the exhibition games. But he figures he's getting a fair shot. That hasn't always been the case in his career.
Reaugh, 25, spent five seasons in the Edmonton Oilers organization and played all of seven games in the National Hockey League. In the 1987-88 season, he backed up Grant Fuhr. But Fuhr played in 75 games that season. Reaugh managed to get in six games.
"I really just sat around," Reaugh said. "As time went on, I got myself into a bigger and bigger rut without playing and my confidence level just went down and down and down until finally, if I got put in a game, I don't think I could've played."
After the 1988-89 season, which he spent in the Amercian Hockey League with Cape Breton, Reaugh asked for his unconditional release and was signed by Hartford. With Mike Liut, Sidorkiewicz and Whitmore around, Reaugh didn't stand much of a chance of making the Whalers out of training camp last season.
The consolation prize was a job in Binghamton. It might as well have been the booby prize. Binghamton was awful. It won 11 games and set American Hockey League records for horrid play.
"It was tough," said Reaugh, who found one good thing to say about it. "They gave me the opportunity to play almost every day down there. That was something I really needed."
As unbearable as a season like that can be, Reaugh was the one who made it easier for his teammates.
"In the dressing room, I don't think I've met anybody better," Yake said. "He could make you laugh if you needed it if something's going wrong or he could help make players bear down.
"He's probably the wittiest guy I've ever met....If it wasn't for him, there sure wouldn't have been a lot of smiles last year. He, more than anyone, would make the game fun."