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Pogge Needs To Reconnect With His Game

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
It turns out the unkindest cut for Justin Pogge wasn’t the late immersion into last year’s American League playoffs or even being strafed Saturday by Boston.

It didn’t come when coach Ron Wilson called him to the bench asked Pogge in front of his teammates if he was ready to quit or when the Bruins scored on a breakaway a few seconds later to end his misery at six goals against.

No, the bottom came when Pogge was returned to the Marlies, Sunday for a vital game against the Syracuse Crunch and then was passed over in favor of 26-year-old Adam Munro.

The decision by coach Greg Gilbert and his staff amounted to an astonishing fall from grace for Pogge, long the franchise’s premier goaltending prospect, but in the bracing light of reality, it was absolutely plausible.

First, Pogge looked wretched and absolutely lost against Boston. He hadn’t been playing well with the Marlies and had been blitzed for three straight goals against Hershey a few days before. Munro, a more experienced goalie, had compiled a 2.44 goals against average and a .912 save percentage, substantially better than Pogge’s 2.70 and .895.

Now, the question of Pogge and the playoffs becomes an iffy one. At this writing the Marlies are out of the race because by virtue of a tiebreaker, but they have five games remaining to climb back into the post-season.

Pogge will be up again backing up Joseph, Wednesday in Philadelphia and then will be available for the Marlies final five games.

Observers and Leafs GM Brian Burke agree that Pogge has done little to warrant promotion to the Maple Leafs. A season ending injury to Vesa Toskala and Martin Gerber’s suspension as well as a couple well-planned trial runs brought Pogge to Toronto. It has not been auspicious; he has an .844 save percentage and a bloated 4.46 goals against. Oh yes, he won one of five games.

So what do the Leafs and Marlies do now?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

The next move belongs to Justin Pogge.

He has three years under his belt and precious little to show for it, but he would not be the first goalie to need more time.

There isn’t one schedule. Had Pogge looked up Saturday night, he would have seen Manny Fernandez in the Boston cage. Fernandez played 246 games in the minors, 68 more games than Pogge’s 178. Olaf Kolzig played in four minor league cities. The Sabres’ Ryan Miller played 200 American League games.

You aren’t ready just because you think you are ready and you certainly aren’t ready when everyone else wants you to be ready.

Nothing is quite as instructive as failure. It tells you that what you are doing is not working. What could be more useful than that?

Pogge needs a redo from the bottom up, the way Blue Jay ace Roy Halladay went to A ball to reconnect with his game.

Halladay returned to the Jays the hardest working, most dominant athlete on his team. That is what Pogge what will have to be. He has burned all his chances to be mediocre. Now, it’s all or nothing. Next year, start at the East Coast League and work up.

That is, of course, if he is here. Pogge is a restricted free agent at season’s end. The Leafs must decide whether to sign Pogge and there is some chance that both he and the club will agree to part. Maybe finding his way will be easier in a smaller precinct. Likewise, Leafs GM Brian Burke may not feel like hanging on to a project initiated by his predecessor that has born such bitter fruit.

But they no longer point to Justin Pogge as the heir to the Maple Leafs goal. Three years in, hope has been crippled by fact. Now it’s Pogge’s turn to write a new ending, here or somewhere else.

He is 22 years old. There’s time.
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