You find it somewhere between the goal line and a few feet past the crease.
It’s maybe seven, eight feet deep. It can and it has swallowed up goalies whole.
Somewhere between the goal line, the one spot on the ice the goaltender is sworn to protect, and the best position to do so, you will find that most ephemeral of human emotions: a feeling of confidence.
The geometry is simple. Goalies who operate within a hair’s breath of the crossbar can’t do their job. Goalies who venture a few feet further can. But if your job is to guard the hen house, you’re going to stand at the door.
Justin Pogge, a Leafs prospect you might have heard of, is positioning himself a few feet further out these days. Somehow, it makes him taller.
He was plenty big, Sunday, as the Marlies downed the Manitoba Moose 2-1. They lead the North Division semi-final by the same margin. The same two teams resume the series Tuesday at 7 p.m.
That the Moose, first overall in the American Hockey League, are looking a little cowed is almost all about Pogge whose failures at the NHL level at the advanced age of 23 have been well chronicled.
“He’s the heart and soul of what we’re doing in these playoffs,” said Tim Stapleton who scored the winning goal, Sunday. “He’s been the backbone of the team. Hopefully he keeps going because we need him.”
Outshot 31-28 overall, Pogge was particularly dominant in the second when he stopped Jason Jaffray on a one-timer and Michael Grabner on a breakaway.
Pogge is six-foot-three and extremely athletic. But what stood out was his willingness to step into traffic and away from the goal line.
“I’m playing at the top of my crease, I’m battling for my position,” he said. “That Manitoba team is good, they’re putting a lot of traffic in front but I’m really working to find the puck.”
The mental game of staying out is, Pogge insists, one he has to constantly play.
“It’s natural, you’ve got 10 guys coming at you. You’ve got to trick your brain into going out and not in too much.”
The repercussions of the game are simple enough. The Marlies can still win the first round playoff without returning to Winnipeg.
The Marlies opened the scoring six minutes in when Andre Deveaux feathered a pass that Alex Foster redirected toward Manitoba goalie Corey Schneider. The short rebound fell to Jeff Hamilton who roofed it past Schneider.
With 3:22 left in the second. Alexander Bolduc outmuscled Marlies defenceman Anton Stralman behind the net and slid a puck through Pogge on a wraparound.
Stapleton, the Marlies leading scorer in the regular season, notched the winner when he took a pass from Battaglia, moved Schneider out of position and chipped the puck past him.
A three-year-Marlie, Pogge has encountered heaping measures of success and failure. Still, those who he plays with believe in him.
“I feel great having Pogge in the net,” said defenceman Jaime Sifers. “I’ve been with him for three years, we’re great friends and I know he has it in him to be great."