Dustin Tokarski’s path to success began with an e-mail.
In the spring of 2005, Tokarski – then a 16-year-old goaltender from Watson, SK – wasn’t sure where he was going to play hockey during the upcoming season. He had attended six or seven training camps for teams in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League, but was cut each and every time.
Then, on a lark, Tokarski’s mother, Darlene, sent an e-mail to Prince Albert Mintos general manager Mike Mazurak asking if her son could try out for the squad.
The Mintos gave Tokarski a chance and the rest, as they say, is history.
Not only did the he crack Prince Albert’s lineup that year, but by season’s end Tokarski was the Mintos’ No. 1 goaltender and had helped the team to the 2006 TELUS Cup in Charlottetown, PEI.
And it was there, on the national stage, that Tokarski’s star really began to shine.
After a couple of solid round-robin outings and a win in the semifinals, Tokarski was called upon to start the gold medal game against the Calgary Buffaloes.
“There were a lot of nerves before that game,” admits Tokarski. “For me and all the guys, it was our first time on a huge stage. I mean, we were going to be on TSN!”
But once the game began, the young goaltender settled down and made 61 saves to lead Prince Albert to a dramatic 5-4 triple-overtime win over the Buffaloes, giving the Mintos their first-ever national championship in the longest game in tournament history.
It was the first time the nation saw that Dustin Tokarski was the kind of goalie who keeps his cool under fire, but it wouldn’t be the last.
TOKARSKI DOES IT AGAIN
Two years after Tokarski led the Mintos to the TELUS Cup, he was back on the national stage. This time, Tokarski had his eye on the 2008 Memorial Cup as a member of the Spokane Chiefs.
“That was a bit different because the stakes were higher,” he says, “but the situation was basically the same. You go out, you play a round robin, semifinals and the championship game. In that sense, it was pretty similar to the TELUS Cup.”
And, similar to his TELUS Cup appearances, Tokarski was solid between the pipes.
Once again, he saved his best performance for last – registering 53 saves and almost single-handedly stealing the Memorial Cup from the host Kitchener Rangers in a 4-1 Spokane win.
“In situations like that, your goalie usually has to be your best player,” says Tokarski. “When the rest of the guys take their game to the next level, you have to pick your game up a level too.”
Which is exactly what he did.
And in doing so, Tokarski not only got the nod as tournament MVP, he also became much more than a blip on Hockey Canada’s radar.
TOKARSKI GOES INTERNATIONAL
In December, Tokarski was named, along with Tri-City Americans goaltender Chet Pickard, as one of the two netminders for Canada’s National Junior Team at the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship in Ottawa, ON, a dream come true for the 19-year-old.
However, after a few solid outings in the round-robin Tokarski didn’t show up with his usual poise in the semifinal against Russia – a game Canada narrowly won 6-5 in a shootout.
Tokarski was panned by some members of the media for his performance, and hockey fans around the nation questioned if he was the right guy to start for Canada in the gold medal game against Sweden.
But start he did, and, ultimately, Tokarski helped Canada win its fifth World Junior gold in as many years with a 5-1 victory over the Swedes.
“I wasn’t happy with my outing against the Russians,” says Tokarski. “Still, our coach (Pat Quinn) had confidence in me and it was great to go out there, win gold and prove all the critics wrong. That’s the way it’s been my whole life – people have always doubted me. I’ve had to fight for every inch I’ve got. But it’s worth it. It’s made me a better goalie and a better person.”
THE FIGHT CONTINUES
Next season, Tokarski – a fifth-round pick by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft – hopes to play his way onto the Norfolk Admirals of the AHL. From there, Tokarski –the only goalie in history to win the TELUS Cup, Memorial Cup and World Junior gold – wants to make the leap to the NHL.
Yet, no matter what happens, Tokarski will always remember the importance of that TELUS Cup, way back in 2006.
“That was my first big hockey experience,” he says. “I’ll never forget it. It’s really helped me with all the stuff that came later on. It was just a great learning experience.”