Nothing gets by Winter Hawks calm, consistent goalie

Krister Toews, 20, leads a tough Portland trio in the net

The Portland Winter Hawks call their young, hotshot goalies 'the future,' since they won't be pushing the old man out of the net anytime soon.

Dustin Butler, who turns 16 this month, and Kevin Opsahl, 17, will have to wait until 20-year-old Krister Toews finishes his Western Hockey League career. With Toews in goal, the Winter Hawks have an opportunity to win in the playoffs.

Toews has been sensational in his last seven starts, going 6-1 with 1.27 goals against and a .953 save percentage.

'Krister has said by his play, 'I want to be in there every night,' ' coach Mike Williamson says. 'He gives us a chance to win every night, and he's teaching our younger guys about focus and preparation.

'It's important to be competitive every night, and if you don't have a goalie ready. É He's teaching our team how to stay in a hockey game.'

Most WHL teams emphasize developing young players, but with Toews in net, the Hawks (18-14-3) feel unbeatable at times. Last weekend, they defeated the U.S. Division's first-place team, Tri-City, twice by a combined score of 9-3 with Toews at the backstop. He has a 15-12-3 record, 2.44 goals-against and .914 save percentage.

'We're in a bit of a youth movement,' Williamson says, 'but we're competitive today, and we'll be ultracompetitive next year and the year after.'

Butler, who missed 2 1/2 months because of a broken collarbone, returned and beat Kootenay 3-2 in his WHL debut. Williamson calls him technically sound. In six games, Opsahl is 2-2, with 2.93 goals-against and a .909 save percentage. Fiery, the coach says.

By Jan. 10, Portland will send either Butler or Opsahl to a Junior B or Tier II team and work the other into WHL games. It's tough for the Hawks to carry three goalies because the third gets little prime practice time.

The Hawks have ruled out a trade of Toews, for now, because the WHL market doesn't demand many 20-year-old goalies, and he's been too good. He's consistent and always calm.

Toews says he 'can't go nuts and let aggression out. I'm a lover, not a fighter.' He uses his 6-2, -165-pound frame to cover the net. He rarely flops on the ice, and he covers the puck well.

'One of the biggest improvements is controlling rebounds, putting them into the corner or covering up,' says Toews, who shared time with Lanny Ramage the last two years. 'Something hits you when you're playing well. You get a post (hit) here and there. The game is not in slow motion, but it almost seems like it is. Your confidence goes up. Things fall into place.'

As for the young guys, Butler has the height (6-2) but not much girth (155); Opsahl lacks height (5-10) but has some thickness (170).

'A lot of people have said Butler and Opsahl are like me and Lanny,' Toews says. 'Me and Dustin tall, skinny and calm. Lanny and Opsahl the opposite; they play with emotion and not much height.

'I know (Opsahl) would love to have my size. I feel sorry for him, but he plays excellent with what he's got.'

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