Down three games in the opening round of the OHL playoffs, the Kitchener Rangers need a steadying influence. And, thanks to a deadline deal for one of the league’s top netminders, the club is hoping that Jake Paterson can rekindle some of that old magic.
“Basically, they knew they had a pretty good team here and they just wanted me to come in and just do my part,” Paterson explained. “I think we’ve done pretty well so far.
“Probably the biggest thing I bring to the team is experience. I’ve been around the league a little bit. Experience in playoffs is probably the biggest thing I can bring, along with being a good guy in the room — just trying to keep guys loose and try to enjoy it.”
After four-and-a-half years in Saginaw, Paterson joined the Rangers to close out his OHL career. Paterson is playing an overage season simply because of the glut of goaltenders in the Detroit Red Wings’ system. The change to Kitchener has seemingly rejuvenated the netminder — he dropped over a goal in his goals-against average, 3.48 in 24 games with the Saginaw Spirit to 2.37 in 26 games with Kitchener. His save percentage with Kitchener was .905 and jumped to .929 with Saginaw. But Paterson is quick to credit his teammates.
“To be honest, you hate to use a cliche, but I think the team’s done a lot of the work for me and they’ve kind of made it easy for me,” he said. “The first month, I thought we played really well and I think I helped a little bit, but it’s the team that’s helped us do so well.”
Paterson added that he feels the transition is easier for a netminder.
“If you’re a forward or a defenseman, you have more to adjust learning new systems. As a goalie, there’s a couple of things you need to work on — breakouts and playing the puck behind the net — but that’s pretty much the only thing for a goalie,” he said. “For a forward or a ‘D’ there’s more systems to learn. As a goalie, you kind of just come in and try to stop the puck.
“You just try to get used to it as much as possible. There wasn’t too much of a defensive system difference from Saginaw to Kitchener. It was a pretty easy transition.”
Rangers’ head coach Troy Smith said Paterson has been a steadying presence in the dressing room.
“I think confidence and stability. He’s been around a long time, so he knows the ropes in the league and he provides that confidence — that calming influence that you know he’s going to make the big save,” he said. “Also in the locker room he helps keeping everyone calm and keeping the emotions in check.”
For Paterson, the transition was smooth, despite the fact that he was leaving a city that he essentially grew up in.
“Four-and-a-half years, pretty much. It’s been really good,” he said. “Right off the hop, Kitchener was great about getting me settled in; the training staff, the coaching staff, all the guys were really great to me. It’s been a pretty smooth transition, I’d say.”
For a guy that’s been in the league five years, he experienced a lot of firsts recently.
“It’s weird. The first game, playing in a new building in a new city, meeting all the new guys, it was definitely a weird adjustment because I’ve never had to do that before,” he said. “And then [a couple of weeks ago], I played against my old team for the first time. It was definitely a weird feeling when it’s your first time and you don’t know what to expect. But I think I’ve handled it well and I’ve really enjoyed it.”
So is he going to claim to be one of those guys who say that the first game against the team that traded you is just another game?
“You want to think that. You want to say, yeah it’s just another game. But there’s obviously more on the table,” he said. “You want to play well against your old team. You’ve got a lot of buddies on your old team that you’ve played with over the past couple of years, so you want to say it’s just another game, but there’s probably something else that’s going on.”
For Smith, adding Paterson to his roster was a no-brainer. And he’s been everything he could expect.
“I knew Jake. I had him at the under-17’s and I knew what kind of kid he was,” he said. “He was the back-up there, but you could tell right from there that he was a quality kid. And, obviously, having played against him, you know what kind of goalie he could be.”
For Paterson, the road to the pros has a lot of traffic.
“I’ve been to a couple of development camps and main camps and it’s been pretty good. They’ve got a lot of goaltenders right now — and they’ve been playing pretty well as you can see: Howie’s [Jimmy Howard] playing well, [Petr] Mrazek’s doing well, [Jonas] Gustavsson’s doing well,” Paterson said. “When you go to camp you see that they have a lot of good goaltenders, so it makes you work a little bit harder when you know that’s what you’re up against.”
Paterson will be playing in the pros no matter what next year. Where is the question. For his coach, he knows that there’s always room to improve, but he defers when it comes to specifics.
“I think like everybody, you want to continue to get better,” Smith said. “There are areas of his game that you’d be better off asking him, because he’s a goalie. It’s a tough question.”
For Paterson, it’s simple.
“You just have to fill the net a little bit better from junior to pro.”
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