Curtis McElhinney’s short time with the Carolina Hurricanes has been mostly about hotel living, FaceTiming with family and wondering what comes next.
And stopping the puck, and winning some hockey games.
The Canes needed a goalie when Scott Darling tweaked a hamstring in preseason. When McElhinney was placed on waivers Oct. 1 by the Toronto Maple Leafs, they grabbed the veteran and quickly put him to work.
“We knew what we’d get,” Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said Thursday. “You can’t play that position as long as he has without him knowing what he’s doing, and there’s a reason teams want him around.
“He’s come in here and done everything we’ve asked him to do, and then some.”
The Canes, with McElhinney in net, took a 3-1 road win over the Columbus Blue Jackets that was Brind’Amour’s first as a head coach. Getting a second start Tuesday against the Vancouver Canucks, he earned a second victory with 22 saves in a 5-3 win that improved the Canes’ record to 3-0-1.
All that has been nice but it was been difficult for McElhinney, 35, to be away from his family. He and his wife, Ashleigh, have two kids, ages 7 and 9, who miss having their daddy at home.
Had McElhinney cleared waivers and been assigned to the Toronto Marlies, the Leafs’ AHL team, that wouldn’t have been a problem. Being claimed on waivers meant packing bags, jumping on a flight and being at Canes practice the next day at PNC Arena.
“It’s phone calls, FaceTime, trying to keep up with everybody’s life,” McElhinney said in an interview. “I’m just trying to have some normalcy for the kids as they go through school and activities. For now it’s almost like an extended road trip with no set finish date.”
The Canes begin a three-game trip Saturday with a game against the Minnesota Wild, and Brind’Amour said McElhinney would get the start as his story continues to unfold.
McElhinney said he hopes to have the family down to visit in Raleigh after the Canes return.
“It is what it is, kind of like a temporary situation,” he said. “I don’t really know what the future holds.”
McElhinney is used to change. The Canes are his seventh NHL team -- he has been traded three times and claimed off waivers three times since first coming into the NHL in 2007-08.
McElhinnney said his physical conditioning at 35 might be better than at 25. He’s listed at 6-2 and 203 pounds but appears bigger and broader when he’s in net, and he plays a calm, composed game that matches his off-ice demeanor.
McElhinney’s numbers last year as a backup with the Leafs were impressive: an 11-5-1 record, 2.15 goals-against average and .934 save percentage. Once on waivers, he realized some team might snatch him.
“Based on how I feel like I’ve been playing the last couple of years I still have value to add to a team,” McElhinney said. “A lot depends on where teams are at with injuries and what they feel about their goaltending situation. Carolina had a specific need and the timing was good, so it worked out for myself pretty well.”
How long it will work out remains to be seen. Darling, who is on injured reserve, did some on-ice work Thursday with goaltending coach Mike Bales before the Canes practice at Raleigh Center Ice and accompanied the team on its three-game road trip..
It’s possible Darling could be sent to Charlotte on a conditioning stint, to play a few games. But if McElhinney continues to play well, alternating with Petr Mrazek, the Canes could have a goaltending decision to make.
McElhinney, who has never played more than 32 games in a season, said he hasn’t gotten feedback from management on possible plans, saying, “It’s more or less just show up and do your job. I don’t think there’s any expectations from my end. While Scott’s out we’ll fill a hole and go from there.”
McElhinney will continue to live in a hotel and go to work. He did say he probably would change hotels, getting a room with a kitchenette.
Asked what hotel that would be, McElhinney said, “I’m not really sure. To me it’s just a dot on the map.”
That’s what Google Maps is for, especially for a man on the move.