Saskatoon Blades goaltender Andrey Makarov has had his share of highs and lows this season.
Makarov's spectacular showing at the world junior championship is his biggest high of the season. After starting goaltender Andrei Vasilevski was pulled in Russia's semifinals game against Canada, Makarov came in and made several key saves to stop Canada's late surge. He then stood on his head in the gold-medal game, turning away 57 consecutive shots against Sweden, but the 58th shot by Mika Zibanejad in overtime shattered his gold-medal dreams.
"It was (a) great tournament," says Makarov. "You know, make 57 saves, it was great. Good experience and a lot of fun. (Once in a) Life time experience and got to play with great talent like (Nail) Yakupov and (Mikhail) Grigorenko."
After his phenomenal gold-medal game performance, Makarov became the talk of the town in Saskatoon. Ultimately, making the Russian puck-stopper somewhat of a celebrity in Central Saskatchewan.
"People say I watched you on tv and you play good," says Makarov. "Like celebrity, yeah. Everyone wanted to talk to me."
Unfortunately, his biggest low of the season happened immediately after returning to Saskatoon from the world juniors. Makarov, 18, suffered a concussion after Regina Pats forward Morgan Klimchuk accidentally ran into him on January 7. He missed over two weeks of action.
"Concussion was bad, but (I am) better now," says Makarov. "I feel good. I just play (one) game at a time."
When Makarov is on his game, it seems he stops everything he sees. He has posted one shutout and 10 one-goal games throughout 43 games this season. However, he has gone through some rough patches with the Blades. The 6-foot-1, 178-pounder maintained a 4.11 goals-against average and a .876 save percentage throughout December. He has also let in five or more goals on nine different occasions this season.
Blades general manager Lorne Molleken is building this Blades team for next year when they host the 2013 MasterCard Memorial Cup. Even though Molleken has almost a full year to add to his offense, it seems very unlikely he'll be able to put together an offensive core as strong as recent Memorial Cup champions. Therefore it seems the Blades will have to count heavily on Makarov to outplay their opponents' goaltenders on the big stage.
"It's a once in a lifetime opportunity to play in Memorial Cup," says Makarov. "I can't wait. I hope we can win. We have a good team. I don't worry about pressure."
Makarov went unselected in last year's draft. But it seems there's a good chance an NHL team could draft him as a 19-year-old this year. He was recently ranked eighth among North American goaltenders by NHL's Central Scouting Service's midterm rankings.
"I don't care (about draft rankings)," says Makarov, who has maintained a 3.07 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage in 43 games this year. "I just play. I don't pay attention (to draft rankings)."
1. Do you look up to a goaltender in the NHL?
"I like (Philadelphia Flyers goaltender) Ilya Bryzgalov. He's good and competes hard."
2. You played with the Lewiston Maineiacs in the QMJHL last year. How would you compare the QMJHL to the WHL?
"WHL is tougher league. It's more like NHL, like physical. I think it's (WHL) better league, but both good leagues."
3. Do you like it better in Saskatoon than Lewiston?
"It's great here. It's bigger than Lewiston. I like that. I go to cinema and more to do here. I like it better (than Lewiston). It's colder, but uh, bigger and fun."
4. With young Russian stars like Mikhail Grigorenko and Nail Yakupov leaving Russia to play in the CHL, do you think more Russians will follow suit and come play junior hockey in North America?
"Like with Grigorenko and Yakupov coming here, I think more will come. It is better way to NHL. It's great over here."
5. If the NHL doesn't work out, would you consider going back to Russia to play in the KHL?
"I am just in Saskatoon. That's far away. I want to be here."
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen (image credit WHL.ca)