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Konowalchuk: Not yet ready to commit to naming T-Birds’ starter in net

Carl Stankowski was pulled for Rylan Toth after surrendering three goals on six shots (Aaron Bell/CHL Images)

Carl Stankowski, whose stellar performance throughout the WHL playoffs has been noticed by just about everyone in the hockey world, was pulled in favor of a backup goalie for the first time since the magical run started during Sunday evening’s loss to the Windsor Spitfires.

The just-turned-17-year-old goalie from Calgary, Alta. kept the team in their opening game of the 2017 Mastercard Memorial Cup against the Erie Otters, weathering a furious storm by the Otters to begin the game. Seattle would end up losing that contest, but certainly in no part due to Stankowski’s performance.

Fast forward to Sunday night when the host Spitfires tallied three goals in a span of 38 seconds, tying a Memorial Cup record. Just five minutes and 26 seconds and six shots into the first period, Stankowski was pulled in favor of Rylan Toth, who hadn’t seen game action since March 11.

Seattle now finds themselves in must-win territory in their final game of the round-robin portion of the tournament when they face the QMJHL-champion Saint John Sea Dogs on Tuesday night. Depending on the rest of the week’s contests, Seattle could either qualify for the semi-final with a win on Tuesday or be forced to play in a tiebreaker game.

Following Sunday night’s loss, T-Birds head coach Steve Konowalchuk wasn’t ready to commit to a starter for the do-or-die game on Tuesday.

“If I do (go back to Stankowski on Tuesday) I’m not going to have any doubts or any hesitation,” Konowalchuk told media following the game. “If I do, he’s a real good goalie. It was three big breakdowns there that left him out to dry. I’m not going to commit to anything right now. I’ve got two goalies that I’m very confident in.”

Toth entered the contest against Windsor about as cold as a goalie can be, having not seen game action in over two months. He came out well, stopping the first 12 shots he saw and giving Seattle a chance to rebound.

However, a questionable decision to play a puck behind his own net on a Windsor power play proved costly as the Jeremiah Addison was able to dig the puck out and send it to the front of the net where he found Julius Nattinen with a wide open net. The goal restored the Spitfires’ three-goal lead and seemed to deflate the Seattle bench, which was starting to find some life after scoring to cut the deficit to 3-1.

The 20-year-old veteran that guided Seattle through the regular season stopped six of the final 10 shots he saw, saving 18 out of 22 over the course of about 55 minutes.

It’s a difficult decision for Konowalchuk: Do you go with the veteran goaltender who has previous Memorial Cup experience, or the rookie who has defied all odds and led the team to their first-ever WHL Championship?

Stankowski can’t really be blamed for the three goals that were scored against him Sunday as all of them came following bad turnovers in the Seattle zone. It felt as though he were pulled more as a wake-up call to the Seattle bench than as an indictment of his own play.

For now, it’s no surprise that Konowalchuk is keeping his starter under wraps. Stankowski and Toth play very different styles – one, Stankowski, is smaller and usually forces teams to try and go high on him, while Toth, at 6-foot-2, covers a much larger portion of the net. Until lines are revealed some 30 minutes prior to game time, Konowalchuk more than likely wants to force the Sea Dogs to prepare for the possibility of seeing either netminder.

Toth went 36-18-2-1 during the regular season with a 2.75 goals against average and .902 save percentage.

Stankowski went 16-2-2-0 during the playoffs and had a 2.50 goals against average .911 save percentage.