Winnipeg Jets’ new backup goalie Rittich looking for opportunity to rebound

Less than 24 hours after agreeing to terms with the Winnipeg Jets on a one-year deal worth US$900,000, David Rittich spoke to reporters via Zoom call on Thursday on the chain of events that led him to what will be his fourth NHL team in the last three seasons.

The 29-year-old Czech native was asked to share his thoughts on leaving Nashville, where he played behind the busiest netminder in the NHL last season, Juuse Saros, to ride shotgun for Connor Hellebuyck of the Jets, the league’s No. 2 workhorse among puck-stoppers in 2021-22.

“I was driving home from the ice practice and just had a call from my agent about Winnipeg is interested in me,” said Rittich, who spent his first four-plus seasons in North America and the NHL as a Calgary Flame. “Then I had a call with the goalie coach (Wade Flaherty) of Winnipeg and had a really good chat of what I really felt it’s in a good way.”

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Rittich said the interest Flaherty showed in him prompted a call to his agent to relay the message that Winnipeg would be a good fit, and the deal was done in mere moments.

Both sides will be looking for a much better outcome than what the six-foot-three, 206-pound netminder experienced a season ago with the Predators, when in 17 appearances Rittich went 6-3-4 with a 3.57 goals-against average and .886 save percentage.

“Of course I’m looking to bounce back, and also I’m looking to play more than one game in one month,” said the former Pacific Division all-star replacement for Darcy Kuemper in the 2020 mid-season classic. “It’s hard to get going, hard to feel good, hard to get your form back when you play once a month. You’re saying to yourself, ‘Oh boy.'”

The backup Rittich is replacing, Eric Comrie — who signed a two-year, US$3.6-million deal with Buffalo on Wednesday — didn’t get a whole lot more playing time behind Hellebuyck last season, making just 16 starts in the 19 games he played.

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But the newest Jet wasn’t prepared to share any of the details of the conversation he had with Flaherty.

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“We all know where we are and of course I know Connor Hellebuyck is one of the best goalies in the league,” was about all Rittich was willing to divulge. “I’m looking to have his back, to learn something from him, and to be good partners — good teammates. I would love to play every other night, but we’ll see what’s going to happen.”

Rittich is known for his outgoing and sometimes unfiltered personality, and he did not disappoint when asked about returning to a market north of the 49th after his one season in Nashville.

“To be honest with you, I didn’t miss Canadian media.”

Rittich said he was only kidding “because I had to say that.”

“The U.S. is way easier on the players. I’ve played in Canada, I know what to expect. I would assume Winnipeg media and the fans will be the same as Calgarians are.”

Rittich says he is familiar with at least one of his new teammates, Adam Lowry.

“I lived in his house in Calgary so we had a lot of conversation and I was already in touch with him. And I met Connor Hellebuyck and (Mark) Scheifele at the all-star game.”

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