Pogge the unsung hero

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:55 AM ET

LETHBRIDGE -- While the man who stole the spotlight for the second game in a row was surrounded by a horde of media types, the man who stole the series stood alone. Justin Pogge, a trade deadline acquisition that had some scratching their heads, had just stood on his to clinch the Eastern Conference quarter-final series over Lethbridge in five games.

Yet, it was overtime hero Andrew Ladd who garnered face time and accolades Pogge could only dream of.

Until now.

"He was our unsung hero tonight -- he made a lot of huge saves, especially in the third period, to keep us alive," said Ladd of the 18-year-old netminder.

"He's always been the underdog his whole career. The guys realize that he's been stellar since he got here. He's the guy you can lean on."

That's what Ladd's lads did again last night in a 2-1 overtime win, especially in the opening stanza when the Hurricanes stormed out of the gate with an onslaught Pogge calmly turned aside.

Hurricanes coach Lindsay Hofford, who was supposed to have the better netminder heading into the series, said Pogge was the difference.

"Obviously, Pogge's save percentage is .960 or something like that," he said.

"We out-chanced them tonight and didn't score, so he's definitely MVP of the series. Pogge is the key there -- if they get goaltending like that, they can ride him a long way. If not, they're going to be in trouble."

Despite winning four games in a row, trouble seemed to find the Hitmen throughout a series that saw all but one of the games decided by one goal. However, it was Pogge who provided the crucial saves teams count on come spring.

All told, he turned aside 27 shots last night, good enough for second star behind Lethbridge 'keeper Aaron Sorochan, who let in Ladd's weak overtime winner one week after being named finalist for top goalie in the east.

Pogge insists snubs like that don't bother him -- in fact, they've become par for the course.

"I really have been the underdog throughout my career -- no one was watching me until I got to the WHL," said Pogge, an aw-shucks type from small-town B.C. who grinned when told of Hofford's praise.

"Thanks. That feels good."

A third-round pick of the Leafs, Pogge has taken to his new digs in Calgary just fine, thank you, posting impressive numbers down the stretch including a playoff run that has everyone in Calgary suddenly thinking big.

Everyone, including Pogge.

"It's just another step to a Memorial Cup," beamed Pogge, who made two incredible glove saves midway through a 1-1 tie that thwarted tremendous 'Canes pressure.

"I wasn't getting many shots at that point but stops like that give you confidence."

And they deflated a normally potent opposition big time, Sorochan admitted.

"Every time we tried Pogge got a stick, pad or skate on it," said a devastated Sorochan, following his final junior game.

"Their goaltender is going to take them far. He came up with big saves so many times."

Indeed he did, prompting Lethbridge fans to try anything, including endless chants, to change his luck.

And although it wasn't reflected in the headlines, he was truly the hero in a series everyone knew would come down to goaltending.

With some well-deserved time off ahead, you can bet he'll soon start spending every bit as much time in front of cameras as he has in front of shots.

He deserves it.


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