OTTAWA – Amid all of the blur and hoopla surrounding the World Junior Championships, Dustin Tokarski was off to the side doing his own thing. With his iPod plugs in his ears, he couldn’t hear all of the talk.
He couldn’t hear the talking heads’ chatter about how fellow Canadian goaltender Chet Pickard, a first round pick, should be the starter in the biggest game of his career. Tokarski certainly blocked out the rumors that Team Canada head coach Pat Quinn was looking for a reason to start Pickard in the Gold Medal game.
He just went out and played the most brilliant game of his life, riding a shutout until 11 minutes, 30 seconds remained in the contest. The result: a convincing 5-1 victory for the hockey-crazed nation. It was Canada’s fifth consecutive Gold Medal in the world’s most prestigious junior tournament.
“Yeah, I think this was my best game of the tournament,” Tokarski laughed. “There was a lot of mental focus and preparation. As a professional athlete, you have to be able to do that when it matters most.
“Everyone feels pressure in games like this,” Tokarski said. “It is just a matter of how you deal with it. I just came in with a positive attitude and I wanted to be a key player tonight.
Tokarski has had a knack for coming up big when it matters most; he has backstopped his teams to a national Midget championship before leading his Spokane Chiefs to the Memorial Cup last season. The World Juniors was just another feather in his cap.
“Throughout my whole career, it has been like people say; you just need to treat it like any other game,” Tokarski explained. “I had a great team at both of those levels. It is all about the team coming together and believing in each other.”
Vindication is a natural feeling. Despite being heavily criticized right up until the drop of the puck, the humble Tokarski said that his performance and subsequent hardware will do the talking for him. For Canada, this was supposed to be the year that lacked in the goaltending department. Tokarski still wasn’t really feeling vindictive.
“A little bit,” Tokarski said. “But not really. Winning is the only thing that matters. We went 6-0 in this tournament and it is much bigger than one person. There's definitely some critics out there who didn't believe in me. Hopefully I changed their minds after this performance
“If anyone says anything, that is their own opinion. I am just going to keep believing and working hard. I have a Gold Medal to prove it.”
While the concentrated media attention - with a press corps that rivaled that of the Maple Leafs and Canadiens - may have been a slight distraction for Tokarski, he was thrilled to have won the medal in front of hometown fans.
“It is hard to explain how it felt,” Tokarski said. “Just to have so many Canadians there to cheer you on, they are so passionate about the game of hockey. They helped make it as special as it was.”
Tokarski got a hot start against Sweden, stopping nearly everything in sight. In the second period, Tokarski was peppered with 16 Swedish shots and turned away all of them.
“I knew that I needed to be better after last game [semifinals against Russia],” Tokarski said. “I tried to block out everything else and just focus on the puck.”
“I knew that I needed to be good tonight for us to win. I played my heart out.”
Tokarski was better than just plain good. He was electric. Now, for the previously nomadic goaltender who once bounced from team to team, the future doesn’t get much brighter.
“I am glad that I was able to take advantage of such an opportunity like this,” Tokarski said. “It is something I will remember forever. I am thankful for my teammates and coaches believing in me.
“Hopefully this is just a stepping stone to bigger things.”