Jake Paterson is delivering on his promise.
When the Saginaw Spirit made Paterson the first goalie selected in the Ontario Hockey League priority selection draft, there were the usual questions of how he would adapt to the junior game after playing for a stacked Toronto Marlboros midget team. The way the 17-year-old is playing in the Spirit's second-round series against the London Knights — Paterson had a 42-save first-star effort Monday when Saginaw won on London ice for the first time this season to take a 2-1 series lead — has borne out the wisdom of that pick.
On Monday, just hours after he was ranked third among North American goalies on NHL Central Scouting's final list, Paterson stoned London by thwarting what Spirit coach Greg Gilbert called "seven or eight high-quality, Grade A chances." It was part of a late-season arc that has seen Paterson, counting his nine playoff starts, post a 2.45 goals-against average and .926 save percentage since Feb. 1.
"That kind of comes with confidence," Paterson, who is the youngest starting goalie still active in the OHL playoffs. "When you're feeling good and you're used to the league and the speed of the OHL, it just comes naturally. You're playing bigger and you're out a little more on the shooters."
Whether the Spirit can oust the regular-season champion Knights remains to be seen. Getting this far with a second-year goalie is notable. Only three other Canadian Hockey League, all in the QMJHL, managed to win a playoff round while relying on a goalie below the voting age. Paterson, who turns 18 in three weeks, has looked like a veteran netminder while helping stymie the star-studded London and Sarnia Sting lineups.
"Terry Barbeau, our goalie coach, has done a great job with him," Gilbert says of Paterson. "What I've noticed is he's become very efficient, a lot stronger and more confident in challenging shooters, coming out over the blue paint [in the goal crease]. He's not wasting energy. He's just getting square to the shots. He's come a long way."
At 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, Paterson has the requisite size NHL teams prize in a goaltending prospect. The Mississauga native, who's giving up his beloved lacrosse this summer to focus on his craft, notes Barbeau has built on the tutelage he'd also had from his regular goalie coach, Piero Greco.
"He [Barbeau] has been a big help this year," Paterson says. "He's taught me a lot of little things. He's been working with [Buffalo Sabres goalie] Ryan Miller, so it's always good to be working with someone who works with a goalie of that [Miller's] calibre. It's been a large part due to Terry that I've been having the success I've had lately.
"He hasn't tried to change my game. Sometimes it's the little things that add up. Obviously, I have my goalie coach back home, Piero Greco, who's taught me pretty much everything technically. He [Barbeau] has been there all year. He'll see something in my game that needs a little tweaking."
The Spirit, who climbed from ninth in their conference to fifth over the second half of the season, did so while platooning two draft-eligible goalies. Paterson shared time with 18-year-old Clint Windsor, but won Gilbert and the team's confidence in time for the playoffs.
"It was earned," Gilbert says. "Clint Windsor came in and did a great job for us to help us get into a playoff competition, Both goalies have learned about internal competition and pushing each other. The great thing is they have a great relationship. Clint understands his position right now and so does Jake."
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