Former goalie Kevin Weekes knows both sides of Hurricanes goalie situation

Goalie-turned-analyst replaced Irbe in Carolina, was surpassed by Lundqvist in Big Apple

Madeline Gray—North State Journal
The Hurricanes new goaltender Scott Darling talks with press on May 10 at PNC Arena.

RALEIGH — Goaltender Scott Darling said during his first visit to Raleigh as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes on May 10 that being a No. 1 goalie requires a different mindset than being a backup.”When you don’t play every couple weeks, there’s a lot of pressure — it’s your one game, you gotta show your stuff,” said Darling, who signed a four-year, $16.6 million contract with the Hurricanes one week after being acquired by trade from Chicago on April 28. “I actually found it more fun when I got the reins to know you’re going to play and just kind of relax and have fun.””Have fun” is a familiar refrain in the Carolina net. Longtime goalie Cam Ward has famously made the phrase his motto, writing it on his sticks or having it on his masks as a reminder that his job is, at the end of the day, still a game.Darling is now poised to end Ward’s 11-season run as the Hurricanes’ No. 1 goalie. It’s a position former Carolina goalie and current NHL Network and “Hockey Night In Canada” analyst Kevin Weekes is familiar with.”I’m sure Scott’s going to be sensitive and appreciative of that and understanding of that history, that organizational history,” Weekes said of Darling taking over for Ward — the team’s leader in just about every career goaltender statistic — as the team’s top netminder.Weekes, a native of Toronto, did the same thing when he replaced Arturs Irbe — the man Ward surpassed for several of those aforementioned records — as Carolina’s No. 1 goalie back in 2002-03.Weekes and Irbe had led the Hurricanes to the 2002 Stanley Cup Final, with the veteran Latvian carrying the bulk of the load but Weekes playing in more than a third of Carolina’s 23 playoff games to help the team survive and advance through the postseason.Ward had done the same in 2006, only he leapfrogged Martin Gerber for the top job during the playoffs en route to the Conn Smythe Trophy as postseason MVP and Carolina’s lone Stanley Cup.”I’ll tell you one thing: the Canes don’t get to Stanley Cup Final either time without backups,” Weekes said. “It doesn’t happen. You look at a lot of teams — the Pittsburgh Penguins don’t win the Stanley Cup last year without the ‘quotation mark’ backup.”Now Ward, who along with fellow goalie Eddie Lack has one year left on his contract, seems the likely backup to Darling, depending on how the expansion draft and offseason pans out.”If it happens to be that role for Cam, and Cam wants to play that role, I think there’s no shame in that,” Weekes said.That’s because Weekes not only knows what it’s like to replace “the man,” but has also been on the other side of the equation.After signing with the Rangers in the summer of 2005, Weekes was supplanted as the No. 1 by a seventh-round pick from Sweden in his first season in North America. Weekes didn’t feel any shame in being overtaken by future Hall of Fame Henrik Lundqvist.”I know for me during that Lundqvist situation after I left Carolina, I was like, ‘I’m just going to be the best backup in the league,'” Weekes said. “That’s it. I’m going to support this kid, this kid’s a rock star, and I’m going to be the best backup. … I was happy to be the veteran guy that was there to support him and there to share some of my expertise and some of my experiences with him and share a laugh with him and everything else.”Weekes is quick to point out that there are only 60 — soon to be 62, with the addition of the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017-18 — NHL goalies in the world, and sometimes you have to settle for what’s available.”That’s not a lot of seats, not a lot of chairs,” Weekes said. “And if you want to have a chair, you might not always be sitting where you want. … But if you want to have a seat sometimes it’s not always about the seat that’s most ideal for you personally.”Weekes said Darling has paid his dues to earn the shot to be a No. 1, and that he would expect Ward to slide into a new role without rocking the boat.”Does he play 25? I’m not sure,” Weekes said of Ward. “But either way, one thing I can say is the Canes have been really good — like really, really, really good — to Cam Ward, and I don’t see how there could be any bitterness.”Weekes said Carolina is “not far away” from returning to the postseason and making noise. And Darling is the guy poised to get them back there.”He’s gone through all of those progressions, and now this is a great opportunity,” Weekes said. “He certainly has the skillset, he’s got the talent, he’s got the size and the ability.”