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Lightning prospect Tokarski keeps on winning in Norfolk

by Dan Marrazza / Tampa Bay Lightning
For all the kinds of statistics that are used to evaluate a hockey goalie, the one that stands alone as the most important is the amount of wins they have. If amount of wins is the criteria for a successful puckstopper, then third-year Norfolk Admiral goalie Dustin Tokarski’s career is off to a very successful start.

Tokarski, a 22-year-old native of Humboldt, Saskatchewan, is second in the AHL with 23 wins this season, having currently won four straight starts during a six-game Norfolk winning streak which is the longest that a Lightning AHL affiliate has ever had.

“The way we've played lately, we haven’t always needed Tokarski to be great for us,” said Admirals head coach Jon Cooper. “However, when teams have pushed back against us, Tokarski has consistently been there to shut the door.”

A former fifth-round draft pick (122 overall) of the Lightning in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Tokarski has had a winning record in every season of major hockey he's played since beginning his junior career with the WHL's Spokane Chiefs in 2006-07.

During his second professional season last year, he went 21-20-4 with the Admirals, resulting in a Lightning AHL affiliate qualifying for the Calder Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2004. Two years ago, as a rookie, he went 27-25-3, giving him a combined record of 71-56-7 in his professional career with the Admirals.

Prior to turning pro, Tokarski enjoyed a decorated junior career which resulted in him winning a Gold Medal with Team Canada at the 2009 World Junior Championships, and a Memorial Cup with the Spokane Chiefs in 2007-08.

"Having that winning experience is important," said Tokarski. "It gives you the confidence to know that you can win under pressure circumstances. I know that whenever the next big situation comes along, that I've already been there and can handle the pressure."

Tokarski is a former fifth-round draft pick (122 overall) of the Lightning in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
For a junior goalie, there's no bigger pressure cooker than being named Canada's starting goalie for the prestigious World Junior Championships. However, when thrust into that spotlight four years ago, Tokarski led his nation to its fifth straight World Junior championship with consecutive elimination victories over the United States, Russia and Sweden.

Tokarski's performance included stopping 39 of 40 shots in the Gold Medal Game against Sweden, in a tournament he finished with an undefeated record.

"Having guys who have won has much as Tokarski has in your locker room is a major positive," said Jon Cooper. "Everybody wants to be surrounded by guys on their team who are winners."

Tokarski earned his spot as Canada's starting goalie as a result of his standout performance with the Spokane Chiefs the prior spring. In 2007-08, Tokarski went 30-10-2 in the regular season, before starting every playoff game in the Chiefs' run to their second championship in team history. Tokarski surrendered just 31 goals during Spokane's 21 playoff games, earning him both the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy as the Memorial Cup Tournament MVP, and the Hap Emms Memorial Trophy as the tournament's top goalie.

But for all of Tokarski's winning pedigree, Norfolk head coach Jon Cooper admits that there's still one very important step for his third-year goalie to take in order to get to the next level.

"Tokarski has won at almost every level of hockey he has ever played, but he's yet to make a long playoff run in professional hockey," said Cooper. "If he can be at the helm and lead us on a long playoff run this year, it would really him mature his game and get ready to take the next step in his career."

Before Tokarski will get the chance to lead the Admirals on a playoff run, Norfolk will have to solidify its playoff positioning in the regular season's final 22 games. Currently on their third-longest winning streak in 11 years, the Admirals will embark on a three-game road trip, where they'll visit the Binghamton Senators, Hershey Bears and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

The Admirals will start the weekend with a 33-18-1-2 record. Their 69 points are tied with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the East Division lead, with Hershey just a hair behind with 67 points.

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