Compared to bantam and triple-A goaltenders, Ontario Hockey League goalies experience life in the fast lane. And while many 17-year-olds struggle to keep up with the pack, Saginaw Spirit goalie Jake Paterson is proving that the faster things move, the better he can play.
In his first OHL playoff series, Paterson outplayed Sarnia Sting veteran J.P. Anderson in helping the Spirit to six-game series victory.
The 6-foot-2, 183-pound Paterson, No. 5 on NHL Central Scouting's mid-term ranking of North American goaltenders for the 2012 NHL Draft, stopped 163 of 180 shots in the series, posting a .906 save percentage and 2.76 goals-against average. He recovered from overtime losses in Games 2 and 3 to win the next three games, allowing just six goals on 86 shots to close the series.
"Facing J.P. was a big test," Paterson said of Anderson, a San Jose Sharks prospect with 41 games of OHL playoff experience. "He had a lot of experience playing in the Memorial Cup last year, so it was a big confidence boost for me to come out on top. But our team played really well, so a lot of the credit goes to them, and now I'm just looking to keep it rolling here in the second round."
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Paterson went 18-18-3 with a 3.04 GAA and .904 save percentage in 42 regular-season games; so what, if anything, generated this sudden improved play? Did he experience some kind of personal revelation or awakening? If so, did it happen during a crucial three-game winning streak to finish the regular season?
Nope. In fact, nothing really happened. Paterson was focused on the fundamentals, on playing in the moment. When you're living in the fast lane, that's all you really can do.
"You want to be going into the playoffs on a high note, but I don't think anything changed," he said. "The team came together at the right time, so I just stuck to my fundamentals like I've tried to do all season long. Ending the season on a high note was a good start for the playoffs, and winning the first round was another big step in the process, so I'm just looking to keep it going here."
The Spirit will face the OHL's top regular-season team, the London Knights, in a second-round series that opens Friday
There are just a few obstacles to living in the fast lane of top-level junior hockey, among them staying energized despite a grueling schedule, being comfortable with a billet family, and staying relaxed and controlled despite the faster and more talented opponents. So with only five games as a rookie last season, playing the majority of the games this season presented plenty of tough and frustrating nights.
And while scouts know a goalie's fundamentals are the foundation that leads to future success, they also know mental toughness is the crucial hidden element that allows those fundamentals to be executed on a consistent basis.
So what exactly does mental toughness mean to Paterson?
"Mental toughness is having your head in the game for a full 60 minutes and not letting anything get to you," he said. "Earlier in the season I had a couple of rough stretches, so then I focused on putting it all together for a full 60 minutes. That was the biggest thing for me -- just adding consistency to my game by playing the full 60. If I can do that, I can usually give my team a chance to win every night."
Paterson, the 32nd pick of the 2010 OHL Priority Draft, also receives guidance from Saginaw goalie coach Terry Barbeau, who has worked with Buffalo's Ryan Miller for nearly a decade. Paterson has a similar frame as the 6-foot-2, 175-pound Miller, so there's a certain attractive, cohesive chemistry that comes from both goalies being guided by the same instructor.
However, despite the body-type connection between them, Paterson takes great pride in having his own unique style.
"I've always looked up to guys like Carey Price and Ryan Miller," Paterson said. "My goalie coach in Saginaw has been a huge help, and when you have a coach that has worked with Miller before, it's always good to get some of those same tips. I don't really try to play a style like any NHL goaltender, but I've been told I have some similarities to Price and Miller."