Wild-eyed and wringing with nervous emotion for a sport he loves, Eagle goaltender Marc D'Amour glides from sideline to sideline during stoppages of play; he has much in common with a big zoo cat.
There are no bars on D'Amour's cage, but he has been restrained for years by circumstances - both of his own making and out of his control.D'Amour waits for his chance at a bigger world, although he'd accept another shot at the world he's got now. With the season he's had for the Eagles, that chance could come at any time. It's hard waiting. After six years with the Calgary Flames, he doesn't know if they want him back. They don't know until they re-assess their organization-wide personnel following the playoffs.
"The man will have a job in hockey - he's too good not to," says Flames' Coach Terry Crisp, who coached D'Amour in juniors and at the minor level in Moncton and has seen him mature through what Crisp calls "a rollercoaster ride with us."
"I don't want to leave the Calgary Flames organization," says D'Amour, who could probably be excused if he did want out after bouncing around the minors with no place to call home last season and after losing his NHL backup job two years ago to Mike Vernon when bouts with hyperventilation affected his game.
"I've proven it in the past, but I really convinced myself this year that I can be an NHL goalie when given the opportunity. That's all I ask," D'Amour says.
That, or a job with the Eagles. D'Amour wants Flames' general manager Cliff Fletcher to know he wants another chance. "I want him to sign me," D'Amour says. If there's no immediate NHL future, "I'd love it if they signed me for Salt Lake," he says.
D'Amour's contract with the Flames ended with the conclusion of the regular season. Like all players, the playoff pool pays his salary until the Eagles exit from the playoffs or win it all.
"I have mixed emotions," says D'Amour, 27, who played an Eagle record of 62 regular-season games and who's played in every playoff game for them so far. All season, he's ranked among the IHL's top three goalies with a goals-against of about 3.20-3.40.
"I feel like I'm no longer part of an NHL franchise," says D'Amour about being contract-less. "They've been really good to me, and under the circumstances, they did the things they had to do."
Ah, the circumstances.
D'Amour likes his fun. No more than anybody else, he says, but that label stuck. "It's so easy to acquire a reputation," says Crisp, "and so hard to get rid of it. He's his own worst enemy at times. He has a zest for life. All he had to do was temper it." He's done that, according to D'Amour, Crisp and Calgary assistant to the president Al Coates, overseer of the Salt Lake operation.
D'Amour was also easily distracted during games. "He's controlling his emotions on the ice and not interacting with opposing players as he was in the past," says Coates. "He's concentrated a whole lot more on playing goal and leaving the nonsense to others."
"I hope he's showing signs of stabilizing, of being at the top of his game and wanting to stay there," says Crisp. "I probably hope for it more than anybody."
After two years in Colorado (CHL) and another divided between Moncton and Salt Lake, D'Amour's 1985-86 training camp put him on the big club as the backup. Hyperventilation caught up to him, and Vernon took the spot. Last season, Vernon stayed in Calgary, and Doug Dadswell, with a big contract out of college, was tops in Moncton. D'Amour skipped from Team Canada to Moncton to Salt Lake to Binghamton, N.Y.
At training camp last fall, D'Amour felt defeated before he started, knowing Dadswell had a large one-way contract that meant he'd get paid big-league money in American dollars if sent down.
D'Amour says he had the best camp of any of the goalies; Coates says D'Amour and Dadswell were about the same, both better than No. 1 Vernon. Largely because of the contracts, D'Amour was sent to Salt Lake.
Then the Team Canada cut Rick Kosti, and Calgary sent him to Salt Lake as No. 1. D'Amour won out over Kosti with a good work ethic and skilled play, and Coach Paul Baxter has relied on D'Amour almost entirely.
In March, the Flames were offered NHL veteran Rick Wamsley in a trade. They weren't comfortable with Dadswell as Vernon's playoff backup, and D'Amour hasn't played an NHL game in two years, so they agreed - another experienced goalie in a crowded picture.
"It's part of being a pro," says D'Amour. "You've got to learn to adjust to the situation." Instead of letting the setbacks break him, he's responded as though they are challenges. "I've paid the price," he says.
"He's been tested," says Crisp.
Crisp and Coates agree D'Amour has passed. "He's been outstanding," Coates says. Coates said D'Amour's "great attitude and great work ethic" have impressed the Flames, who appreciate his willingness to make practice fun for himself and teammates. Coates noted that last Sunday, there was an optional practice. D'Amour didn't have to be there, but he was. "Marc's attitude has really helped," Coates says.
Through it all, D'Amour's been remarkably cheerful, never burning bridges. "If I'm no longer part of the Calgary organization, I don't want them to have a bad taste in their mouth," he says. "I'd like them to think I'm a leader and helped the kids a lot. That's just the way I feel about the game."
Caged but not beaten, D'Amour has sent a message, "Not only to us but to 20 other NHL teams," says Coates. "His amount of playing time and goals-against average on a very young team indicate a tremendous year," Coates says.
But all D'Amour can do now is pace the goal line and wait.