The Nanaimo Clippers have been scoring a lot of goals all season long. Now they’re making a lot of saves, too.
The team’s new No. 1 goaltender, Evan Johnson, was chosen as the B.C. Hockey League Player of the Week. He won all three of his starts, including two overtime decisions, and posted a .956 save percentage and a 1.25 goals-against average.
“It’s definitely an honour,” Johnson said. “It’s nice to be recognized. It’s a really good league, and every player wants that every week.”
A lot of times, goaltenders get more than their share of credit, but with the Clippers’ front-line forwards posting such eye-popping statistics this season, Johnson’s netminding had been going under the radar.
“He’s been unbelievable for us the last couple weeks…” said Matt Hoover, Clippers centre. “If you make a mistake and you’re confident with your goalie, that he can bail you out, it’s a lot easier to play.”
Johnson was a latecomer to the Shipmen, as he started the season with the major junior Medicine Hat Tigers before being sent down in the first month of the season. After Johnson spent some time at home in Winnipeg away from the rink, his friend Zach Court of the Clippers suggested that the goalie consider Nanaimo, even though the the team already had two netminders.
“I knew that I had a good chance to have a spot, whatever that may be,” Johnson said. “I just knew that I wanted to keep playing hockey and this was a good place to come.”
He had a bit of a shaky start in Nanaimo, but felt “as long as I did what I could do, I knew I’d be OK.”
The team went on to build a win streak, largely backstopped by Johnson, and then last week the Clippers traded their former No. 1 goalie, Jonathan Reinhart, to Alberta’s Brooks Bandits, solidifying Johnson’s ascent.
Getting in a lot of games has helped him “get in a good rhythm,” he said.
The 6-foot-1, 190 pounder is an athletic goalie who’s mobile in his crease, works hard back there, and will get a little feisty with opposing forwards who get too close.
“Sometimes I like to get myself into the game a little bit by roughing it up a bit. I try to keep it down to a minimum,” he said. “But sometimes I feel like if it’s necessary, I’m not going to back down from anything.”
After limited action with the Tigers, and before that, the Portland Winterhawks and Calgary Hitmen, the 19-year-old is the go-to guy on one of the hottest teams in junior A hockey.
“I’ve played on some contenders in the past, and it definitely looks the same here,” he said. “We’re playing really well and hopefully we can continue that.”
GAME ON … The Clippers and the Merritt Centennials face off Friday at 7 p.m. The Clippers are home again the next night against the West Kelowna Warriors in a 6 p.m. start.
— Greg Sakaki (@BulletinSports) December 8, 2015