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Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Dustin Tokarski leads Canada to junior world title

Things looked so bleak for Team Canada that day at the world junior championship, even Dustin Tokarski admitted his usually unshakable confidence was "teetering."

But the goaltender, who said his career is one of "never give up," knew if he hung his head, the cause was lost.

"I knew we'd have no chance," he said. "We're a great team. We just had to keep on truckin'."

So Tokarski regrouped and Canada, down 3-0 to the United States after 13 minutes, won 7-4. A 6-5 semifinal win over Russia was next, and Monday's 5-1 pounding of Sweden at Ottawa's Scotiabank Place gave Canada its fifth straight title.

"Pretty amazing," the Lightning prospect said Tuesday. "A huge honor, especially at home in front of 20,000 fans."

There is no place the 122nd pick of the 2008 draft would rather have been.

"I wanted to be a goaltender so I could make a difference," he said. "You choose to do this because you want to be in the spotlight, and when you're in the spotlight, you want to be a differencemaker."

Tokarski, 19, of Humboldt, Saskatchewan, has done that at every level.

He led the Triple-A Prince Albert Mintos to the 2006 Canadian midget championship, and last season the junior Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League to the Memorial Cup as tournament MVP.

He is 16-9-2 this season for Spokane with a .938 save percentage, a 1.97 goals-against average and four shutouts.

The rub is Tokarski said he tried out with six midget teams before catching on with Prince Albert. He tried out with two WHL teams before the Chiefs took a chance.

He doesn't have to sell the Lightning, which last month signed Tokarski to a three-year, entry-level contract that kicks in when he goes to the minors, probably next season.

"My bet," said Chiefs coach Hardy Sauter, "is when he plays in the American Hockey League, he'll win a championship, and when he plays in the NHL, he'll win a Stanley Cup. He's one of those guys success just follows."

It helps Tokarski is so technically sound, especially that at 5 feet 11, 185 pounds, he is smaller than the preferred goalie model.

"He's square to the puck, always," Sauter said. "His lateral movement is outstanding, and he anticipates the play as well as any player I've ever seen. When you add that with the movement, he stops lots of shots before guys even know they're shooting."

"The thing that Dustin does is he wins games," Lightning co-assistant general manager Claude Loiselle said. "He makes the big saves at the right times. He's a real competitor."

Who elevates his game on the biggest stages, such as when he stopped 39 of 40 shots in the title game against Sweden.

"It comes from family," Tokarski said of his dad, Mark, and mom, Darlene. "A hard-working family, never say die, and I think that carries on to hockey. The games are do or die, so you have no choice but to play good."

The early plan is for the Lightning to honor Tokarski during the Jan. 19 game with the Stars at the St. Pete Times Forum.

Tokarski said he plans to play there one day.

"That's the ultimate goal," he said.

Who are we to doubt.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Dustin Tokarski leads Canada to junior world title 01/06/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 7, 2009 5:47pm]
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