Perhaps it would be too much to ask Jordan Papirny to duplicate his playoff statistics from a year ago, but if the rookie goaltender can muster a performance anywhere close to his Midget AAA swan song, the Brandon Wheat Kings could be a tough team to beat this spring.
As the Wheat Kings prepare to face the Regina Pats in the first round of the Western Hockey League playoffs, all eyes are on the 17-year-old from Edmonton after he performed well down the stretch to help Brandon return to the post-season following a one-year absence. While Papirny is untested in the WHL playoffs, he showed last season he could elevate his play in big games. He was the Alberta Midget AAA Hockey League’s playoff MVP, leading his SSAC Athletics to a surprise berth in the championship final, posting a brilliant 1.61 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage. Papirny won three overtime games in that post-season, including a legendary 62-save shutout in a 1-0 five-overtime victory over the Lloydminster Bobcats in the North Division final.
"I love the moments where all the pressure’s on you and that’s what playoffs is and I think that’s kind of where I shine," said Papirny, whose Athletics were only one win away from upsetting the Red Deer Chiefs for the Alberta title, losing the deciding game 1-0 despite 40 saves from the SSAC goaltender. "… We’re all competing to stay in and to win a championship."
With a potent offence that produced 271 goals — fifth most in the WHL — the Wheat Kings will try not to put all of the burden on Papirny, who carried a heavier load than expected in his rookie season, playing 46 games, in part because of a first-half injury to veteran Curtis Honey. Still, the youngster has become a goaltender the Wheat Kings are very comfortable with having between the pipes.
"I think Jordan’s been pretty consistent overall," Wheat Kings head coach/general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. "When you look at his body of work, probably the only stretch that was tough for him was when he had the 18 (starts in 19 games) with no relief. But really, I think you have a pretty good idea of what you’re getting every night. He’s really, I think, improved over the course of the year, and he’s playing real well here heading into playoffs."
Owner of a 3.28 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage this season, Papirny has a 2.94 GAA and a .912 pct. since Christmas. More importantly, he was entrusted with three key starts in the final week of the regular season when the Wheat Kings were trying to lock up their playoff spot, and won them all, including a pair against the Pats.
"It’s special. I mean, to get put into those big games, the ones where we need to come out with the two points, is huge," Papirny said. "Especially for a goaltender, confidence, I think, is very important."
ONE-TIMERS: The best-of-seven series opens Saturday in Regina, with the Pats hosting Game 2 on Sunday (CKLQ pre-game show, 7:30 both nights) … D Ryan Pilon returned to practice on Thursday, leaving D Kord Pankewicz, who took a stick in the face earlier in the week, as the only Wheat King sitting out.