Pogge returns to Hitmen with gold

By Aaron Vickers

With a shutout victory in a 5-0 win against the Russians in the gold medal game, Justin Pogge and Team Canada repeated as champions of the World Junior Championships for the first time in nearly a decade.

Pogge went undefeated in the tournament, winning all six games played en route to finishing with a 1.00 goals against average and a .952 save percentage to help Canada to its first back to back wins since 1996 and 1997.

His six goals against helped Canada establish a new record for goals allowed in the tournament.

“I’ve got to credit the defense in front of me for my shutouts,” said Pogge, who also held the opponent scoreless in three games, including Finland in the semi-finals and the Russians in the finals.

Pogge’s three shutouts during the tournament also established a new Canadian record.

With his stellar goaltending, including several timely saves throughout the tournament, and feel-good story, Pogge quickly became a fan favorite in Vancouver. It was something the 19-year-old won’t soon forget.

“You can’t really explain that many people cheering your name,” Pogge commented.

“It’s just a great feeling,” said Pogge, who also helped Canada to its first win on home soil since Red Deer in 1995.

“When the crowd gets behind you, it puts a little bit of pressure on you but it feels good and you can’t beat that.”

Throughout the tournament, Team Canada head coach Brent Sutter never lost faith in Pogge, who played every minute of the tournament for Canada.

“I never questioned him because I’ve seen him play so many times this season,” said Sutter, who is 12-0 at the helm of Team Canada.

It’s been Sutter’s Red Deer Rebels who have been the whipping boys of Pogge and the Calgary Hitmen this season. Sutter and the Rebels are 0-4 against Pogge this season.

The Toronto Maple Leafs organization shared Sutter’s faith in him. Before the tournament began, Pogge penned his signature to a contract with the Maple Leafs. The negotiations didn’t take too long.

“A day,” Pogge he said. “I got a pretty good deal.”

With the pressure cooker of playing in what is widely regarded as the league’s most scrutinized club, Pogge says the trials of playing with the red Canadian leaf on his chest certainly will help him once it’s time to put on the blue maple leaf.

“Vancouver was pretty crazy with all the media, but it’s not bad,” offered Pogge. “It’s a small price to pay for playing there and playing the game you love.”

The signing moves the former third round pick in 2004 one step closer to professional hockey, where he’ll likely soon run into fellow Maple Leafs goaltending prospect Tuukka Rask.

Rask, drafted in the first round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, backstopped Finland to a bronze medal in the World Juniors en route to being named the tournament’s top goaltender.

“It’s going to be good,” remarked Pogge on the potential of playing with Rask. “He’s a younger guy but a great goaltender and a classy guy. It’ll be nice to see him in Toronto.”

Rask echoed the sentiments while at the World Junior Championships.

“We are both great goalies. It will be nice playing on the same team.”

For now, it is back to the daily rigors of the Western Hockey League for Pogge, who returned to the Calgary Hitmen lineup Wednesday against the Lethbridge Hurricanes.

Pogge allowed two goals on the games first seven shots in the first period, but was all smiles at the Hitmen rallied to beat the Hurricanes 4-2.

“It was good getting the win but I think in the first period I was still on vacation and I had to come back down to earth,” said Pogge with a smile. “It was good that weak one went in. It was a good comeback and I’m ready to get to work. I think after that first period I came back to reality, so back to work now.”

Pogge was honored before the game in a celebration that also featured Hitmen team doctor Ian Auld, who also won gold with Team Canada. The tournament also celebrated the return of forwards Brett Sonne and Alex Plante from the World U-17’s.

“It was awesome,” said Pogge of the ceremony. “The fans are great and they were so loud, during the presentation. It was great.”

Pogge feels he’s retuned to the club a better goaltender as well. With the amount of preparation done before each game in the World Juniors, Pogge feels he’s learned from the experience.

“Just to stay calm and not to get too nervous in the game,” said Pogge of what he’s learned. “I’ll take some calmness back with me.”

Calmness is what Pogge will need to tap into again if he hopes to take the Hitmen deep into the Western League playoffs. Pogge says it’s his goal for the remainder of the year.

“Definitely a championship,” said Pogge. “I want to win the championship. I think we have the team to do it and if we play like a team every night we’re the best team in the league. We set our goals high and we want to have them come true.”

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.