For a while it appeared Jim Hrivnak was going to make his way into the NHL by default.
The Skipjacks goalie, who was 5-5 with the Washington Capitals last season, came to camp last month and quietly did what he does best -- keep the puck in front of him.
With veteran Mike Liut firmly entrenched as the organization's top man, Hrivnak was ready to settle for No. 2, as another veteran, Don Beaupre, couldn't come to contract terms with the Caps after his contract expired in June.
But lo and behold, when camp ended in Lake Placid, N.Y., the Caps had penned Beaupre to a contract and shipped Hrivnak back to Baltimore before the ink was even dry.
"I thought I had a good camp," Hrivnak said. "They told me I was playing well, but as soon as Beaupre came back and they found out he was in good shape, I got sent back to the Jacks."
But Hrivnak plans to make his disappointment known on the ice and not in the press. "No problem," he said. "I'll just get all the time I can here and play as well as I can."
In fact, Hrivnak said he kind of likes it here.
"I'm only 22 and we've got a lot of young goalies in the organization," he said, referring to Olaf Kolzig and Shawn Simpson, who also are with the Jacks, and Duane Derkson and Byron Dafoe, who also are in the system. "It's nice to know I'm getting the chance to play and show them what I can do. It's a comfortable situation because I like the city, the fans and my teammates."
Last season, Hrivnak went long stretches without seeing shots because of the Jacks' stingy defensive unit, made up of veterans like Brian Tutt, Dennis Smith and Alain Cote. Those three are gone, as is Bill Houlder, who was traded to Buffalo last week. Chris Felix, Kent Paynter, Mark Ferner and Bobby Babcock are each expected to shuttle between the AHL and NHL.
"The first time I played with these new guys this year was in Hershey Saturday night [a 5-3 win] and I was impressed," said Hrivnak, who was 24-19-2 with a 3.06 goals-against average with the Jacks last year. "There's no difference in my confidence level. Sure, they are a little younger, but I know and they know they can do the job."
As right wing John Purves said, "It's not like they're scared to be in the AHL. They are young, eager and fearless. Nothing intimidates them."
But coach Robbie Laird knows those same qualities also will lead to some mistakes, but he's happy he has Hrivnak behind them to help cover up the errors.
"He's a top goalie in the AHL and I think this is the year he's going to prove it," said Laird, whose Jacks host Fredericton tomorrow night and Saturday. "He got beaten out in Washington by two veteran goalies. But, hopefully, playing 50 or 60 games in the AHL this year will prepare Jimmy to be a top player in the NHL in the future."