Johnson: Vancouver goalie picked up the gauntlet laid down brilliantly by his Carolina counterpart
Carolina Jr. Hurricanes goalie Sean Kuehn looks up after the Vancouver Giants scored with 12 seconds left to force overtime in the Mac’s AAA championship game on Tuesday. Kuehn’s brilliance was overshadowed by Vancouver’s winning goalie Bo Didur, who made the key saves in OT to net a 3-2 win.
Photograph by: Ted Rhodes, Calgary Herald
Maybe the hardest thing for any goaltender is to be reduced to a part of the enthralled audience.
“Just watching him,” admitted Bo Didur, “well, he had an unreal game. Third period, he just shut the door for them. Slammed it. But that goal we scored in the last 12 seconds ... when that went in I had only one thought in my mind: ‘There is NO way I’m letting another one in. This is OUR game.’
“And, it might sound strange, but I didn’t feel any more pressure when we went into OT. I was just overjoyed, under the circumstances, to get it that far.
“If anything, that helped me relax. I just went out and had fun.”
By any gauge, Sean Kuehn was simply outstanding in net for the Carolina Junior Hurricanes in the 35th edition of the annual Mac’s midget boys final. Clinging to a slender 2-1 lead, the 17-year-old from Flower Mound, Texas, was not to be beaten until the 16th and final Vancouver shot of a fiercely one-sided third-period, Brandon del Grosso converting with an agonizing (or exhilarating, depending on your rooting choice) 12.5 seconds left to push the outcome into overtime.
For so long, he looked set to be the story.
But then, during then ensuing 15:15 seconds of sudden-death tension, Didur proved that anything Kuehn could do, he could do ... well, not better, exactly, but at least every bit as spectacularly.
And, suddenly, the story changed.
“Bo’s done that all year for us,” praised Vancouver coach Clint Thornton. “He battles through everything. Same as in practice. He battles for every loose puck.
“He’s the kind of kid who’ll never give up.”
In that no-flood, first 10-minute OT period, when his mates needed him most, Didur turned the tables on his rival; it was he reducing Kuehn to the role of enthralled audience member.
The Canes’ Jesse Schwartz knifed through the middle like a knife through butter, but Didur denied him with a stunning right arm reflex. With Carolina on the power play, Dylan Bengston, lurking at the edge of the crease, nimbly deflected a pass. Didur spat it back with his left pad.
Near the end of that first, abbreviated extra frame, he got lucky, too, Kyle Wehmhoff cracking a shot from the high slot off the crossbar.
By far, though, the most decisive moment occurred just 1:30 in, Todd Jackson of the Canes sifting through the middle of the ice and wheeling a backhand back against his momentum as Didur scrambled to make up lost ground. The puck disappeared. Bodies were everywhere, blocking the view. Jackson was off on a delayed-reaction celebration, while the patrons at the Scotiabank Saddledome were half-rising out of their seats to find the nearest exit when, suddenly ...
“I kinda lost sight of it for a second but I found it and I lay down on top of it,” recalled Didur. “Right under my back. Right where my number is. I felt it hit my back and then, luckily, it just lay there. I knew I was gonna smother that puck as if my life depended on it.
“Just closed my eyes and sat back. And somehow it stayed out. There it was.”
Great stop. Great performance. But by no means was Didur a shoo-in to even start the New Year’s Day final. The Giants, see, are a goalie-rotation team. Liam Smith had been the man to backstop Vancouver past Czech side Pirati Chomutuv in Monday’s 4-2 semifinal win. He, therefore, had the hot hand. Coach Thornton, therefore, had a delicate decision to make.
“We’re very fortunate to have two good goalies,” explained Thornton. “Liam, who played yesterday against the Czechs yesterday and then Bo, who closed the deal out today.
“It’s a difficult call. But it’s a good problem to have — to have two goaltenders I trust. Liam was hurt early in the year so he missed quite a bit of hockey. So I decided to go with Bo today. Call it superstition or not, but stick with the rotation. It worked for us last year, so I felt it was right to keep it going.”
Whichever call the boss made, Didur said, would’ve been the right one.
“It’s a team effort. Liam had a great game (against Pirati). They could just as easily have gone back to him today again. And he probably would’ve had another amazing game.”
After the team lunch, around noon, though, Thornton rendered his verdict.
“We had meetings in the coaches’ rooms,” recalled Didur, outfitted in a commemorative red Mac’s championship sweater as the yelps of victorious delight could be hear echoing down from the Giants’ dressing room. “They called me in and pretty much said ‘We feel confident that you can bring us home the cup. We’re going to start you.’
“I was excited beyond words. I didn’t know what to do. What to think.
“But I knew I had a task at hand. I also knew I wasn’t going to let anybody down. I was going to help bring it home.”
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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