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Pogge Living a Dream

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs

January 3, 2006

VANCOUVER (CP) -- Justin Pogge was named to the Canadian junior men's hockey team, earned the starter's job and signed a contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the span of two weeks.

"It's been a good Christmas,'' Pogge said with a grin.

The 19-year-old from Penticton, B.C., has a relaxed and confident temperament that serves him well in a high-pressure tournament like the world junior hockey championship.

"I just like his mindset, his attitude,'' Canadian team head coach Brent Sutter said. "Nothing seems to bother him and he's a got a little strut that goes with it.''

Pogge and the Canadian junior team faced Finland and another Maple Leafs goaltending prospect, Tuuka Rask, in Tuesday's semifinal.

Pogge wasn't invited to the Canadian junior team's summer development camp, but earned an invitation to December's selection camp based on the best major junior numbers in the country this season for the Calgary Hitmen, with a 22-5 record, 1.52 goals-against average, .929 save percentage and six shutouts.

"He's won some games for us,'' Hitmen coach Kelly Kisio said. "He gives us a chance to win every night.''

The Hitmen acquired Pogge in a six-player deal from the Prince George Cougars on Jan. 10 of last year, which was the Western Hockey League's trade deadline.

It was a pivotal moment for Pogge. He hadn't been a clear-cut starter with the Cougars and it ate at the edges of his confidence.

The knock on him was that he as inconsistent and would let in the odd soft goal, but Kisio said Pogge was solid from the get-go in Calgary.

"What happened was, he knew he'd be in the next game,'' Kisio said. "It probably had a bit of a calming effect. If he lost, he'd be back in the next game.

"He doesn't worry about a goal. It's water off a duck's back. He gets ready to stop the next shot.''

The six-foot-three, 205-pound netminder has excellent technique as he gets square to the puck and in the right position.

Pogge arrived in the Hitmen's locker-room at the same time forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Andrew Ladd returned from Grand Forks, N.D., after helping Canada win gold at the 2005 world junior championship.

"They were really pumped,'' Pogge recalled. "I was starting to get to know all the guys so I was kind of shy at first. They were really excited to win and they didn't get too big-headed either.

"Knowing what they went through makes you want to be there a little bit more. I always wanted to be here. It's always been a big dream of mine to make it and it's actually coming true.''

Pogge didn't start playing hockey until he was 10.

"My mom couldn't afford it up until then and she finally had enough money to put me through,'' he explained.

Pogge started played baseball much younger and as an outfielder won a provincial baseball championship in 1997 with a team from Sundre, Alta. But he found he was having more fun in hockey and stuck with it.

The Leafs drafted him 90th overall in 2004 and signed him to a three-year entry-level contract the weekend after Canadian team roster was announced on Dec. 16.

Pogge had spent a week in August this summer training with Leafs goaltender Ed Belfour in London, Ont.

"You can't help but not learn from him,'' Pogge said. "I was just like a sponge being there. He's got everything figured out. He's just so calm in net and I'd love to be that way.''

After signing their first contract, players are known to go out and buy the car of their dreams, but Pogge feels his mother Annet deserves some payback.

"I've got to go buy my mom a car first,'' he said. "Our van died.''

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