Thunderbird on a roll

CAMERON MAXWELL -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:27 AM ET

One of junior hockey's most talented netminders finds himself in the purgatory of the NHL lockout.

After going undrafted in his first year of eligibility, Seattle Thunderbirds goaltender Bryan Bridges' masterful season won't matter in terms of his draft potential.

With no CBA in place, there's nary a sign of an NHL draft, meaning Bridges is floating in pro hockey limbo. Yet the 19-year-old, who was named WHL player of the week yesterday, said he's taking the uncertainty in stride.

"All I can really do is just play. Things didn't work out with the NHL talks so I'll become a free agent. Hopefully things work out so I can sign a contract," said the Victoria, B.C., product.

Even with no end in sight regarding the interminable NHL lockout, the goaltender has been in touch with a few pro clubs including the New York Islanders and Chicago.

"Some other teams have talked with my agent but they're keeping it under wraps right now and letting me concentrate on the season," said Bridges.

And what a campaign it's been for the former Kootenay Ice 'tender.

The Thunderbirds are nesting atop the WHL's U.S. Division boasting a 40-21-2-2 record, with Bridges claiming a league-best 33 wins. He's posted a 1.77 goals-against average (second in the league), 11 shutouts (tied for first) and a .928 save percentage (fourth). The WHL mark for shutouts is 13, set last year by Kelowna's Kelly Guard.

It's easily been Bridges' best season of his career and he knows maturity is a factor along with a newfound dedication to his position.

"I am older and I've seen what it takes now. My drive to keep the puck out of the net is a lot more than what it used to be," said Bridges, who won silver with Team Pacific at the 2002 U-17 World Hockey Challenge.

One thing that's really helped between the pipes is mastering his own mind.

"When the play's down at the other end, I relax. And soon as it starts moving back my way, I zone right back in. Then, when the whistle blows I look in the stands or whatever and, when the puck drops, I zone back in again.

"The mind can only focus so long before it begins to wander and, if you can control when it wanders and when it doesn't, then it's better, so I've been controlling my own mindset."

Bridges broke in with Kootenay for the 2001-02 campaign but was dealt to the T-birds last season.

The trade was a blessing, even though Seattle wasn't one of the WHL's stronger clubs and he had to share the netminding chores.

"I split games with Josh Lepp and we got along real well. We pushed each other in practice and made each other better," he said. "I did know that one of us was going to get traded at the beginning of the year and it happened that it was Lepp, to Moose Jaw.

"It worked out really well for me that I could play a lot of games in a row, build some momentum."

But the memories with the Ice were great, especially his rookie season -- despite an injured shoulder during the playoffs -- when the Ice hoisted the Memorial Cup.

"It was a dislocated right shoulder and I wasn't able to compete," said Bridges, adding he would have played one game in the Cup tourney as B.J. Boxma's backup if he was healthy.

Bridges is once again thinking about junior hockey supremacy.

"Our goal at the beginning of the year was to make it to the Memorial Cup and that's what we've got our sights set on," he said.


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