Pogge's steppin' out

CAMERON MAXWELL -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:00 AM ET

For most of his hockey career, Justin Pogge has gone about his business in somebody's shadow. Growing up, the Calgary Hitmen goalie was always overlooked -- the unproven kid chosen last by the team captains before a street hockey game.

But after the Hitmen booted the Lethbridge Hurricanes from the WHL playoffs, upsetting them in Round 1 with a 4-1 series win, Pogge got the nod as series MVP from both the 'Canes players and coaches, as well as his teammates.

It says a lot about the 18-year-old who has mostly played second fiddle on the ice.

"I've always been the third guy outright over my whole life pretty much," said Pogge, who was born in Fort McMurray. "But I just kept working at it. I wanted to make it and I just didn't really give up."

Neither did his mother, Annet Pogge, a single mom who put her son through hockey on her own, which at $5,000 a season wasn't easy with Pogge's father out of the picture early on.

"It was extremely tough. I'm still trying to figure where

I got the money to help him get where he is," said Annet, who lives in Penticton.

"His allowance was always put into an account and used for hockey gear or travel and he got a scholarship for minor hockey in Calgary when he started."

Pogge credits his mom as his biggest influence.

"She helped me through it. She was at every game, every practice," Pogge said, listing his uncle Harmen as a second influence. "Because he was an old goalie."

Pogge didn't start playing hockey until he was nine years old and showed up for tryouts with skater equipment, not knowing he'd find his calling between the pipes.

"I went in with regular equipment at tryouts and

I guess I was stopping pucks, so the coach said I was a goalie," he said.

"I played for fun.I just kept going even though I was always on the 'B' team but it works out in the end, I guess."

One of his former coaches, Dale Bennett, who guided him for two years in Sundre minor hockey, remembers Pogge being a great athlete but never a standout.

"The biggest thing with Justin was he was growing so fast he never really knew how good he was going to be. He was a very even-tempered kid at the time and streaky, too, but calm, like he is now," said Bennett, who coached Pogge in atom and peewee.

"When I had him here, we had a tryout and he was the second goalie on the team. But our other goalie was a really good skater so it turned out Justin played a lot but he definitely wasn't the star."

His mom agreed.

"He's always been the third wheel, the third goalie, especially at tryouts for AAA," said Annet.

Things started rolling for Pogge in 2002 at the Prince George Cougars training camp, where he showed well but didn't make the team.

Recalled Pogge:

"I played junior B that year in Summerland and things went pretty well. I worked a lot on my technique and style, I just developed from there."

He made the Cougars the following season, got into 44 games -- winning 17 of them -- then got drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the third round

(90th overall) last year.

Then came his big break with the trade from Prince George, where he toiled in relative obscurity, to the Hitmen, with whom he has blossomed into one of the best goalies in the WHL.

Prior to last night, he was second among playoff netminders in goals-against average (1.28) and second in save percentage at .954.

"This year's been kinda crazy," said Pogge.

"I had a good trade and, winning this playoff series,

I haven't felt that good about hockey in a long time."

Looking back at the sacrifices she has made, Annet said she wouldn't change a thing.

"I know I'll be rewarded -- I've already been rewarded and I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat," she said.

So would her son.


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