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.
“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.
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.”
By BILL MONTAGUE
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