Justin Mrazek was having a lot of fun Monday afternoon but unfortunately for the St. John's Maple Leafs, it came at their expense.
The 17-year-old goaltender for Yorkton Harvest (Team Western) turned in a brilliant 36-save performance to lead his team to a 4-1 victory during their first game at the Air Canada Cup national midget AAA hockey championships at Memorial Gardens.
The six-foot-three, 201-pound Mrazek was clearly the difference in the game and served as evidence that in playoff hockey, a team is only as good as its goaltending.
Despite the West's reputation as being a perennial giant in this tournament, they were outplayed by the Leafs (Team Atlantic) only to be stymied time and again by Mrazek.
“I’m definitely excited about this week,” Mrazek said. “It’s playoff hockey and this is the greatest time to be playing. It’s intense and upbeat and as far as I’m concerned, this is the most fun time of the year.”
But for as much fun as Mrazek was having, he admitted that his team will have to elevate its play as the tournament progresses. He said they’re capable of playing much better, something they hope to illustrate today against College Antoine-Girouard (Team Quebec) at 3:30 p.m.
The Quebec team beat the Calgary Northstars (Team Pacific) 7-0 in its opening game Monday.
“I don’t think we played our best game today and I know we’re capable of a lot more,” Mrazek said. “We better come to play tomorrow and I’d say that more than anything, this was a wake-up call for us.”
Dustin Nehring, Neil Kodman, Clayton Geiger and Chris Korchinski scored for Yorkton, who led 1-0 after the first period and 3-0 following the second.
While happy to be off to a 1-0 start, Yorkton coach Ryan Hoffman was not impressed by his team’s play. He
said they haven’t played in over two weeks and they were covered in rink rust on Monday.
“That better be our worst effort for the rest of the week,” Hoffman said. “I didn’t think we were sharp at all. We made a lot of little mistakes and Justin was really the only guy who came to play today.
“He really focussed on doing his job but I can’t say that about too many other guys. We were good at times but for the most part, I’m very disappointed by the effort. If we put in an effort tomorrow (today) like we did today (Monday), Quebec’s going to put up a couple of touchdowns.”
Despite the loss, the Leafs were left feeling somewhat upbeat, perhaps due to the realization that the score was not indicative of the game. Time and again they used their speed and passing to create scoring chances but their chronic inability to convert those opportunities, cost them the game.
They did, however, prove that they can compete against the best in the country, something that’s bound to give them confidence heading into today’s action.
“We wanted to be able to compete here and the Western teams have been a real force over the last eight-to-10 years,” said Team Atlantic coach Rick Babstock. “The way we played today tells our guys a lot. We just had a lot of hard luck around the net.”
In the first period alone, Mrazek made two great saves on Sean Wadden and later robbed Ted Purcell and
David Lewis. Purcell, a smooth-skating 17-year-old, showed flashes of brilliance throughout and turned a lot
of heads with his playmaking and stick-handling.
ANTOINE-GIROUARD 7 CALGARY 0: Francis Charette scored two goals and assisted on another one for Antoine-Girouard while goaltender Loic Lacasse recorded the shutout, stopping all 16 shots he faced.
Pierre-Marc Guilbault, Eric Castonguay, Jonathan Corriveau-Lacasse, Kristopher Letang and Robin Beauchemin also scored for Quebec, who peppered Calgary goaltenders Troy Bisson and Brian Dunnigan with 35 shots.
Corriveau-Lacasse also had two assists.
Antoine-Girouard led 2-0 after the first period and 5-0 following the second.
“We’re just here trying to prove we have a good team and hopefully we’ll be among the last four teams at the end of the week,” said Antoine coach Mario Pouliot. “We got off to a good start in the first period and I was happy with the way we used our speed and moved the puck.
“I thought we stayed disciplined and focussed and that’s what we’ll have to do all week.”