Soo Eagles Goalie Jake Paterson (2010-11) headed for NHL draft!
By: Randy Russon - Mika Media - Junior Hockey News
Two seasons ago, Jake Paterson was tending goal in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League for the Soo Eagles. Two seasons ago, Anthony Stolarz was tending goal in the Empire Jr. B Hockey League for the New Jersey Hitmen.
In two weekends, Paterson and Stolarz are expected to be among the top
goaltenders selected when the National Hockey League holds it annual
Paterson and Stolarz are rated 3-4 among North American goaltenders headed into the June 22-23 NHL draft, which will be held In Pittsburgh.
To be sure, it's been quite the elevation for the two 1994 birth year goalies, who are both coming off rising 2011-12 seasons.
Paterson went from the being the third-string goalie in Saginaw to taking the no. 1 job and leading the Spirit into the second round of the Ontario Hockey League playoffs, which only ended after three overtime losses to the eventual Memorial Cup finalist London Knights.
The 6-foot-2, 183-pound Paterson, who hails from Toronto, Ont., improved his numbers steadily during his 2011-12 rookie season in Saginaw. He was 18-18-3 with a .904 save percentage and 3.42 goals against average during the regular season before putting up playoff numbers of 6-3-3, .903 and 3.05.
Paterson's rookie OHL season followed a 2010-11 campaign in the NOJHL when he backstopped the Eagles to the championship as a 16-year old with a cool, calm, collected, spectacular display of netminding.
Eagles coach-general manager Bruno Bragagnolo, whose team will debut in the North American Hockey League this coming 2012-13 season, said he is not surprised at Paterson's ascent into a top NHL goaltending prospect.
"Not only is he very good technically, he has ice in his viens," Bragagnolo said of Paterson. "He doesn't get rattled. He is able to shake off a bad goal or a bad game without letting it bother him."
As for Stolarz, his rise as an NHL prospect has been both sudden and unexpected.
Just last summer, the 6-foot-5, 200-pound native of Jackson, N.J., was searching frantically for a place to play goal after a season of obscurity with New Jersey in the low-level Empire league.
As it turned out, Stolarz finally landed a spot down in the Gulf of Mexico with the NAHL's Corpus Christi IceRays.
"From last summer until now, it's been a complete 180 degree turn," said Stolarz, who before becoming the fourth-ranked North American goalie by NHL Central Scouting prior to the June 22-23 draft was rated 21st at mid-season.
"A lot has changed in a year," he told Sun Media. "I attribute that to hard work."
It's doubtful that Stolarz could have envisioned his sudden NHL ranking a year ago.
"Last summer, I was still searching for a team - I was cut from two Eastern Junior Hockey League teams," he recalled. "I got recommended by my summer coaches to Corpus Christi. I went to an open camp in Albany, New York that anyone could attend. I got invited to the main camp and made the team from there. I got an opportunity to play and got noticed, I guess."
Stolarz ended up playing 50 games for Corpus Christi, posting a 23-22-4 record, .920 save percentage and 2.84 goals against average while logging a heavy workload for a a team that just missed the playoffs in the tough NAHL South Division.
Al Jensen, a former OHL goalie with the Hamilton Fincups and erstwhile NHL tender with the Washington Capitals, now works as NHL Central Scouting's goaltender scout. And he can't say enough about Stolarz's meteoric rise.
"He's got that drive and determination. He's aggressive, great athleticism and quickness. He's got the tools that could someday get him there. He's already got some of that stuff. Maybe four or five or six years down the road, the kid might be something."
So why did it take Stolarz, who is headed to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, Division 1 ranks with the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks in the fall, so long to get noticed?
Stolarz, who had some OHL interest from the Windsor Spitfires, theorizes that he took a road less travelled by playing Jr. B in New Jersey as a 16-year-old rather than the better-scouted AAA major midget level.
Jensen, meanwhile, began to take serious note after he watched Stolarz bear down under pressure at an NAHL showcase event.
"He's got fire in his eyes," Jensen said of Stolarz. "There's just a huge upside to this kid."