With Richter out, Healy gets his chance Goalie content as backup, at least for the Rangers

January 08, 1996|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- Glenn Healy, the diminutive 5-foot-8 back-up goalie for the New York Rangers, is a mystery to many in the NHL because he has found more contentment in his backup role than he ever had as a starter.

As a starter, Healy was the backbone of the New York Islanders team that went to the Stanley Cup semifinals three years ago. As a backup for the Rangers, he has celebrated a Stanley Cup.

"With every sacrifice, you get a big gain," Healy says. "For me, the big gain was the Stanley Cup. And with that sacrifice came great professional enjoyment."

That's not to say there isn't an inner debate between his personal and professional selves.

"I've always played for the challenge, to push myself professionally, so I can look back and say I did all I could to be the best I could be," Healy says. "The personal part of me says maybe I should be playing, starting for another team. But the professional side says with this mix, with the Rangers you might win a Cup. That's the dilemma.

"But in 20 years when you ask me about my career, I'll probably never be able to tell you my goals-against-average or my save percentage -- couldn't tell you now. But I will be able to tell you I was part of a championship team."

Tonight, Healy will start for the NHL's top team in place of New York's No. 1 goalie Mike Richter, who is out with a groin injury for the month.

Against the Capitals, Healy will be trying to preserve New York's 18-game home ice unbeaten streak, which is second only to the franchise record 24 of 1970-71.

Rangers president and general manager Neil Smith, who signed Healy for $950,000 a year to back up Richter two years ago, says the expenditure is not a luxury.

"I had to remind myself that if you really intend to win the championship, you can't leave yourself vulnerable anywhere and Glenn is the guy who makes sure we're not vulnerable in goal," says Smith. "If you get an injury to Mike, you don't want to flush away two or three weeks of hard work because you never insured yourself against that possibility."

And Smith says he has gotten more from Healy than goaltending. During the team's Stanley Cup run, Healy, a 12-year pro, played an integral part, "every bit as important as anyone else on the team."

Friday night, Healy, 7-3-4 with a 2.78 goals-against average, faced adversity of his own against Washington, but held on to earn a 4-4 tie. It wasn't a surprise to the Capitals, who agree the Rangers lose very little with Healy.

But count the Capitals among thos who wonder at Healy's contentment as a backup.

"He must have his psyche pretty much intact," said Capitals coach Jim Schoenfeld. "He must get his self-worth from somewhere else than from having to be a No. 1 goaltender."

Healy once worked very hard to be a No. 1 goalie and says the transition to backup was a big one.

"But you look at your home life," says Healy, 33, who grew up in Pickering, Ontario.

"For me, my mother was sick for a lot of years. As a result, when we were growing up as kids, things were put into perspective very quickly. After working hard to be a No. 1 goalie, I just got the feeling there had to be more out there in this game."

And, for Healy, just having a chance at the Stanley Cup was "far more rewarding," even though he played a much lesser role.

"That's kind of funny and people ask me about it," he says. "But the Stanley Cup is the biggest accomplishment of my career. And I think I'll appreciate it even more when my career is over and I look back -- at least that's what I hope."

Capitals tonight

Opponent: New York Rangers

Site: Madison Square Garden

Time: 7:30

TV/Radio: Channel 50/WNAV (1430 AM), WKDV (1460-AM), WKDV (1460-AM).

Outlook: The Rangers (26-11-7) rallied for a 4-4 tie against Washington (19-17-4) in Landover last Friday. Washington RW Keith Jones (stomach cramps) was limited in his play during Saturday's 3-1 loss to New Jersey and is day-to-day. C Stefan Ustorf, who pulled a hamstring in pre-game warm-ups Saturday, is day-to-day. And the Caps are already without D Jim Johnson (strained shoulder), C Mike Eagles (broken finger) and LW Craig Berube, who is serving the 10th game of his 10-game suspension tonight. C Joe Juneau (bruised knee) is also day-to-day. Rangers C Mark Messier (leg bruise) and D Kevin Lowe (bruised hand) are day-to-day.

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