The last time a North Stars goaltender led the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League in goals-against-average (G.A.A.) was in the 2002-03 season when Brent Walker posted a 2.77 G.A.A. in 24 games.
Now, 14 seasons later, there might be not one, but two North Stars goaltenders to lead the league in G.A.A.
Joel Gryzbowski and Taryn Kotchorek currently sit first and second in the category league-wide with a 1.70 and 1.88 G.A.A., respectively. The last time two goaltenders from the same team led the league in that category while each playing at least 20 games was in 1999-00, when netminders Nathan Ramage and Graham Cook played for the Nipawin Hawks.
But the impressive stats for the North Stars tandem doesn’t stop there.
In 23 games played, Kotchorek, a North Battleford native, has posted a 19-2 record. His win percentage of .826 is, not surprisingly, tops in the league, while his 19 wins are also tied for the most. His three shutouts are tied for the second most and his .924 save percentage is fourth best.
In 19 games this season, 17-year-old rookie Gryzbowski has a league-leading .933 save percentage, the second best winning percentage (he is 15-3), and he is tied for the most shutouts with four. Plus, he has allowed two goals or less in 16 of 19 games played.
Of all those numbers, however, North Stars head coach and general manager Nate Bedford believes only one matters.
“Wins,” Bedford said. “We’re really proud of the fact that we’ve got the second best goals against in Canada and they’re a big part of that, but the most important thing is that they’re winning games.
“They’ve got a healthy competition. I think that’s important. It’s not too often we play back-to-back bad games in net. When one guy has an off night, the next night the next guy doesn’t. I think that’s really good,” he said.
Both netminders agree the competition between one another pushes them to be better.
“It’s definitely a competition when you’re just going back and forth [and] someone is trying to get the number one spot,” Kotchorek said after practice on Thursday. “But at the end of the day, when it’s working going back and forth, why change it when you don’t need to?”
Goaltending coach Travis Harrington said that because Kotchorek made the jump straight from Midget AA to junior, he plays with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, which has translated into a very competitive attitude.
It has also translated into success, as Harrington believes that is when Kotchorek is at his best.
“He really likes the challenge of proving people wrong,” Harrington said. “[On the ice] he works really hard at making sure that he’s ready for as many different situations as possible. He has excellent footwork. His patience has improved a lot, same with [Gryzbowski] as well. Both guys have done a lot of work to make sure that they’re in great habits day to day and that translates over to their consistency.”
Harrington also isn’t surprised Gryzbowski has done so well in his first season of junior. He has known him for a few years and said there was always an inkling he might be able to step into the organization and be successful from a young age.
“There was kind of a plan a number of years ago that there would be a very good chance that he would be ready to make the jump at 17,” Harrington said. “He’s just an extremely athletic kid. He’s got some really good physical attributes and that allows him to work into a game that has become a lot quieter. He does a very good job of controlling the play now and understanding that he can control hockey games.
“In both cases, both guys are extremely competitive and they want to prove people wrong.”
Not only are both goalies competitive in nature, but they both look up to the same NHL idol: Carey Price.
Kotchorek, who got into goaltending as a kid because his dad was one, is a huge Habs fan, so that came easy. But Gryzbowski admitted Price hasn’t always been his favourite goalie.
“I’m a bandwagon hopper,” Gryzbowski joked. “I always loved Marc-Andre Fleury but I changed over to Carey Price now.
“Price is unreal,” he said.
They also both admit there is something to the stereotype that goalies are weird, as it’s well-known in the hockey community that goalies have a reputation of being quirky or odd.
“Who likes to block shots for a living?” Kotchorek said. “A lot of people on the team are going, ‘why would you want to face shots?’”
“I think I’m a little bit out there, off the deep end,” Gryzbowski added. “Just some of the stuff I say or do before a game. I’m so loose [before the game], I don’t even focus up until I hit the ice, so that’s pretty weird.”
Whether it’s weird to stop pucks for a living or not, these two will continue to be at the forefront of the North Stars league-leading defence.
There are still 16 games left in the regular season but the real test begins come playoff time.
“We have the offence to score, we have the defence to shut down and we have the goaltending but I think what’s really going to help is how much depth we have,” Kotchorek said. “Especially the two guys we picked up at the deadline, [they] put so much more depth until our team.”
Nathan Kanter is battlefordsNOW’s sports reporter and voice of the Battlefords North Stars. He can be reached at [email protected] or tweet him @NathanKanter11
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