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Tabaracci gets the call

by Tom Keyser - Calgary Herald
April 23 - 1996
Tonight, Pierre Page's two-goaltender system boils down to one -- Rick Tabaracci. For the Calgary Flames, that's good.
He generally plays the Blackhawks tough, and seems unlikely to, say, allow five goals during the first 24 minutes. Good for Tabaracci, too -- because he'd rather chew road kill and gargle Pine-Sol than sit.
"I don't believe in going in and demanding the No. 1 job," said the quiet, confident, Toronto-born netminder. "If the organization's comfortable with two goalies, so am I. But I think we (Tabaracci and Trevor Kidd) both want to play every night."
A young vet at 27, Tabaracci has never had the chance to realize a dream worn on his sleeve -- to play 65 or 70 games in a season, a la Grant Fuhr.
"I'd love it," he blurted. "Seventy, or 75's a lot, but there's no reason a goaltender shouldn't play 60-65 games a year."
But he set a career high with 43 last season. After losing 3-1 in Game 2, and relieving Kidd during Sunday's 7-5 loss, he makes his 17th career playoff appearance tonight.
Under Page's system of 'play a hot hand, alternate goalies after successive losses,' it's Tabaracci's turn. And yeah, he's glad the dart landed on his name.
"It's not 3-0, it's one game," he said. "We're playing a highly-skilled team. Everybody knows, it's time to be stronger. On defence, everything seemed to flow for us until the last three weeks. Then it got a little tougher. We've gotta get on the scoreboard early, and take it from there," Tabaracci shrugged.
One of the Flames has pasted a Tim Horton's Donuts logo above Tabaracci's seat in the locker room. Symbolic.
"It's 'cause, when I'm not playing, I go crazy between periods, looking for food," explained the green-eyed goalie, laughing.
More to the point, he goes silently mad inside when he's not in net.
Nothing against Kidd, who feels the same way. But the cool cat called Tabby harbors two hopes for the off-season:
First, that the Flames ask him back, which would seem to be a no-brainer -- though Tabaracci's working on a one-year contract.
Second, that the coaches come to their senses and realize the game of musical goaltenders is a crock; that there's only one man for this job, and his name rhymes with Liberace.
Lotsa luck -- if Page has his way.
"They're very similar. We look at their stats from Nov. 26," said the coach, citing his personal watershed date-- they tied the 'Hawks, 2-2 -- after which the sad-sack Flames turned semi-studly.
After that, Tabaracci began to get the starting nod more often. He finished the season with 19 wins, 16 losses, three ties, compared to Kidd's 15-21-8.
But Kidd's 2.78 goals-against average topped Tabaracci's 2.94. Each had three shutouts. "They didn't want to alternate," remembered Page. "And Tabby kept saying, 'When do I get to play.' I told him, 'Be patient, you're not gonna get screwed.'
"I remember the team won 2-1 in L.A., and Tabby says, 'See, I told you I could play.'
"We analyse everything they do. We wouldn't be anywhere close to where we are now without those guys. We are a two-goalie team," Page said, closing the case.
Where the Flames are now is up against it. Tabaracci leads them against Craig Hartsburg's well-oiled 'Hawks, who lead the series 3-0, who could nail down the casket lid tonight, with a win in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Western Conference quarter-final playoff series.
No matter what, this has been a year of years for Tabaracci. A player who made his National Hockey League debut at 21, he finally feels he's found the place -- physically, and mentally, too -- where he can take his game to the max.
"The last six-seven years have taught me a lot. You understand the game better. Confidence is the thing, especially in this position. It's such a mental game," Tabaracci said.
"Last year (in Washington), Jim Schoenfeld and I didn't see eye-to-eye. Then they'd want me to play, and I couldn't -- I was injured.
"I felt, 'I'm almost out of the league at 26, and I haven't even started yet,' " he said, wincing at the memory. "The door is only open for so long."
And the door to the Flames' dressing room -- he was traded here last April -- opened wide.
"I needed the opportunity. Early this year, nobody thought we'd ever make it this far. But I've never played on a closer-knit team. Adversity can bring you together," said tonight's last line of defence.
"Whatever happens, I'm gonna look back on this year and smile."