It’s arguably Canadian junior hockey’s biggest stage, but that doesn’t seem to phase the Pats rookie goaltender Max Paddock.
The 17-year-old started for Regina in the Memorial Cup opener Friday night but said he prepared himself for the biggest game of his career the same as he would if he was playing the last place team in the WHL.
“Honestly, I wasn’t that nervous,” he shrugged when asked in his post-game interview Friday night.
“I just stick to what I normally do for any other game … I feel like that really helps keep my cool.”
With that in mind, it’s not surprising that the words “nerves of steel” came up when referring to his 31 save night.
“I think that’s a strength of his – besides being a really good athlete – is his poise or that demeanour,” said head coach John Paddock.
“I think that that rubs off on the team, or a team likes that kind of person behind them.”
Paddock showed he had the goods in the second half of the Pats season when he went in for the injured Ryan Kubic. Paddock maintained a 2.90 goals against average down the stretch along with a 0.904 save percentage. His team was firmly behind him and it was thought Paddock would start for the Pats heading into their first-round playoff matchup against the Swift Current Broncos.
Unfortunately, Paddock was sidelined with an injury to his groin in the week leading up to the playoffs and was unable to take the ice for his team.
After the Pats lost out to the Swift Current Broncos, Paddock had plenty of time to recover and his end of the season goaltending was enough for Coach Paddock to name the rookie his Memorial Cup goaltender on Thursday morning.
The netminder more than proved his coach right with his performance Friday evening.
The Pats were in tough against OHL champion Hamilton Bulldogs and were played tough too. The Bulldogs took hold of the scoreboard in the first with a goal from Rob Thomas nearly eight minutes into the first period.
Despite four powerplay chances in the first the Pats struggled with passing and sharpness and were unable to capitalize on those opportunities.
That was until 19 seconds into the second period.
With what was left of a lingering powerplay from a first-period penalty by Bulldog Connor Walters Pats captain Sam Steel cashed in on a pass from defenceman Josh Mahura to tie things up but also gave his team a bit of a boost.
“I think Sam’s goal helped us get better,” Coach Paddock said. “All of the sudden the game’s 1-1 and you have more juice – you’re feeling better about yourself.”
From there, Hamilton took control again when Studenic squeaked a goal past Paddock ripping one off the back bar before it bounced out of the net.
The 2-1 lead didn’t last for long, however, when Mahura took matters into his own hands going end to end and launching a wrist shot just below the cross bar to tie things up.
End-to-end for Josh Mahura!
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 19, 2018
The 2-2 tie held through the second period and well into the third which was when the two goaltenders – Paddock and Hamilton’s Kaden Fulcher – showed their stuff.
In fact, one of the biggest moments of the game wasn’t a goal but a save made by Paddock at the 13-minute mark with a surging Thomas coming at him with Brandon Saigeon at his side.
Thomas slid the puck over to his linemate and Paddock reached out without missing a beat, robbing Saigeon of a goal.
“I didn’t seven see Saigeon there,” Paddock said about the moment. “I was focused on Thomas and then he just slid it across to Saigeon and I slid over he just shot it at me. Made a pad save.”
“When he got that backdoor pass and he slid across and got there it was a pretty spectacular save,” enthused Mahura when he was asked about it. “Those are moments that make a goaltender great and he was there for us.”
Perhaps boosted by the effort put in by their goaltender the Pats pressed on in the third period, but as the final minute ticked down game one of the Memorial Cup seemed destined for overtime.
Enter Nick Henry.
With just 32 seconds left in the game, he found Libor Hajek’s rebound and made no mistake, beating Fulcher top shelf to seal it for his team.
“Honestly I just kind of blacked out for a bit, I just jumped in the air,” the young goaltender said of the moment.
A moment made possible in part because he kept his team in it.
“Max was awesome like I said before out there we see it every day in practice and it’s no surprise from us in the room there and he made some big saves when we needed him,” Mahura said.
The Pats have Saturday off and will be back in action on Sunday against the Acadie-Bathurst Titan.
Puck drop is at 5 p.m.
- Josh Mahura (Regina) – 1 goal, 1 assist
- Nick Henry (Regina) – 1 goal (game winner), 1 assist
- Rob Thomas (Hamilton) – 1 goal