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Liston has come a long way since summer camp

by Adam Kimelman /
Everybody has a bad day at some point -- you miss your train, the store is out of bagels, someone finished the last of the morning coffee. Or, in the case of Brandon Wheat Kings goalie Liam Liston, you let one too many pucks get behind you at a high-level training camp.

At the end of July, Liston was one of four goalies invited to Hockey Canada's tryout camp for the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in August. Having come off a strong season with the St. Albert Raiders midget AAA team in the Northern Alberta Midget Hockey League, as well as a stint as the practice goalie for the Western Hockey League's Brandon Wheat Kings during their run to the Memorial Cup championship game, expectations were high for Liston.

However, his camp performance was less than stellar and he was sent home, left to follow from a distance as Canada won a gold medal.

"It's the middle of the summer and I was expected to do well and there were expectations for me," Liston told "You can't play your peak for 12 months of the year and unfortunately for me, my down time happened at the wrong time."

Rather than dwell on his summer misfortune, however, Liston has used it to motivate him during the 2010-11 season, and he's emerged as one of the top goaltending prospects for the 2011 Entry Draft.

"We all like to watch our players develop and hope that it's positive experience followed by positive experience, but in terms of your overall growth, I think adversity and being tested maybe leads to some disappointment, but at the same time can harden you up and make you mentally tougher," Wheat Kings coach/GM Kelly McCrimmon told "That was likely an example of that.

"For that camp for him to not go as expected was disappointing, but sometimes those tough experiences give you an opportunity to learn, as well. He had rebounded by the time he got to our training camp and had put that behind him."

He's done well enough to earn the No. 4 spot in NHL Central Scouting's ranking of the top North American goaltenders available for the 2011 Entry Draft, and an invitation to the 2011 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game.

"I really like his overall net coverage and how strong he is in his crease," Al Jensen, Central Scouting's top goaltending scout, told "He's got good quickness and he's smart at knowing when to challenge the shooters. He's got good strength holding his ground when players cut to the net hard and he battles for loose pucks lying in the crease. He even plays big while down in his butterfly. He has very good low net coverage in the butterfly."

When Liston arrived in Brandon for training camp, he found a congested crease. He was one of three 17-year-old netminders competing for playing time, and there also were a pair of 20-year-olds.

"I think it was pretty challenging for all the goaltenders with the uncertainly," McCrimmon said. "But I think for Liam, it forced him to make our team and to make a good impression on the coaching staff and our goaltending coach, and he did that."

The two overage goalies were let go in training camp, and early in the season Ty Rimmer was dealt to the Prince George Cougars. That left Liston and Corbin Boes competing for playing time.

"A situation like that, especially with the team we have, such a young team, it was really difficult for the three of us," Liston said of the competition between him, Boes and Rimmer. "I had a bit of an advantage in the fact that I had spent some time with the team last year, a couple months, the Memorial Cup. I was close with the older guys and they helped me relax. I was able to draw on my experience from relating with Kelly and relating with the coaches and used that to my advantage."

Liston started the season 4-4-0, but established himself as the No. 1 goalie in early November, when he won five of six starts. He followed that with a seven-game losing streak, but on a Brandon team rebuilding after last season's run to the Memorial Cup, Liston has played well. He's 13-15-1 with a 3.68 goals-against average and .884 save percentage. However, he's faced 35 or more shots nine times in 33 games, and is a respectable 3-5-1 in those games.

However, Jensen believes seeing that much action only will help Liston get better in the long run.

"Liam has seen a lot of rubber this year, and it's actually good for his development," Jensen said. "Being a good young goalie and facing a lot of shots, he just has to keep battling and try and stay a little more consistent. Seeing a lot of rubber can be a good thing as long as he doesn't get frustrated and stays positive and keeps working hard on his game."

That hard work was on display at the Top Prospects Game, when he stopped all 18 shots he faced in 29:30 of action.

Not bad, especially considering he was facing some of the best offensive talents on the continent, as well as working his way back from a strained hamstring. McCrimmon said Liston's start in the Top Prospects Game on Jan. 19 was his first start since Jan. 4.

The scouts got to see the 6-foot, 199-pound goalie against top-flight competition. Now they'll see how he handles life back in Brandon, where the Wheat Kings are on the fringe of contention for a WHL Eastern Conference playoff spot.

"I think he's a very mature person. I think he's mature beyond his years in terms of just how he handles situations and reacts to different things that come at him. ... He's a high- achieving athlete. He's got high expectations. I really sense he's going to do everything he can do to be as high a draft pick as possible." -- Brandon coach/GM Kelly McCrimmon

"For me right now the biggest thing is breaking down a game into segments," Liston said. "I've talked to my goalie coach about playing to the five-minute mark, playing to the 10-minute mark and that's really helped me. The reality is for our team to have a chance to win every night I'm going to have to post a low (goals-against) number. Maybe in the middle of the season that weighed on my mind a bit too heavily. Right now I think we're really looking forward to getting back and getting things going and making a push for a playoff spot."

With Liston in net, McCrimmon is confident that can happen.

"I think he's a very mature person," McCrimmon said. "I think he's mature beyond his years in terms of just how he handles situations and reacts to different things that come at him. ... He's a high-achieving athlete. He's got high expectations. I really sense he's going to do everything he can do to be as high a draft pick as possible."
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