FORT LAUDERDALE — Lightning goalie Dustin Tokarski understands that his first NHL callup may last only a few days.
Tokarski, a 20-year-old prospect, was recalled from AHL Norfolk on Thursday to provide insurance until Mike Smith recovers from a neck strain (he's day-to-day). But the circumstances haven't muted the excitement of Tokarski, nor the Lightning, which likes the potential of its 2008 fifth-round draft pick.
"It's awesome," Tokarski said. "It's what you work for, to work toward being here. I don't know how long I'm going to be here, but I'll work as hard as I can, do my best, and we'll see what happens."
Tokarski has an impressive juniors resume. He led the Spokane Chiefs to the 2008 Memorial Cup, Canada's junior championship, and was the tournament's most valuable player. The native of Watson, Saskatchewan, then played a big role in Canada winning the gold medal at the 2009 World Junior Championships, topping a Sweden group led by Victor Hedman 5-1 in the title game.
"We didn't play our best game against them," Hedman said, "but when we had chances, (Tokarski) stopped them. He's a hell of a goaltender."
Lightning goaltending coach Cap Raeder said he loves Tokarski's even-keeled demeanor and mental toughness, which he first saw during the World Junior Championships. Tokarski wasn't playing his best, Raeder said, but after giving up early goals in a couple of games, he'd always seemingly come through with timely saves when his team needed them the most.
"He plays a very simple game," Raeder said. "Nothing flashy, and I like that about him. Every day is the same."
Spokane Chiefs coach Hardy Sauter said though Tokarski exudes calm and "looks like a teenager," it's "kind of a camouflage for a real tense competitiveness inside him."
"He's always been a guy that expects a lot out of himself," Sauter said. "His inner drive, to me, is second to none. He's not the biggest guy, he's not the most athletic, but he always finds a way to stop pucks. … And I think his ability to perform in clutch moments is really uncanny."
Norfolk coach Darren Rumble said Tokarski typically finds a way to bounce back and is always up for a challenge. Case in point: After the Admirals lost to Syracuse 4-1 on Jan. 8, Tokarski sought out Rumble, saying, "I want another shot at those guys."
Tokarski wasn't supposed to start the next night, but Rumble said "it takes a lot of confidence to step up like that," and he put the goalie in. Tokarski made 30 saves in a 2-1 loss.
Tokarski said he has made big improvements since training camp and "is starting to come into my own."
His first NHL trip comes at an interesting time. Former Chiefs teammate and old friend Drayson Bowman, a forward, was called up Friday by Carolina, which the Lightning plays Monday in Raleigh, N.C.
Though Tokarski may not get any game action with Tampa Bay this time unless Antero Niittymaki gets hurt, Rumble said if he gets in, "nobody has to worry."
"If (Tokarski) ends up between the pipes, the team is in good hands. I can promise you that."