Rask on pins, needles

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:07 AM ET

Tuukka Rask wants nothing more than to suit up for Finland against Canada but it was revealed yesterday that's not a slam-dunk as most are assuming.

It has been thought Rask, the Maple Leafs' first-round pick this past summer, would be starting versus Canada and another Leafs prospect, goalie Justin Pogge, in the opening game of the 2006 world junior championship on Monday. And though it still has an excellent chance of happening, Finland coach Hannu Aravirta threw some water on that theory.

Aravirta said from B.C. he will not decide until after a pair of exhibition games whether Rask or Karri Ramo, a Tampa Bay Lightning prospect, will go in against Canada.

"I hope I start," Rask told The Toronto Sun from B.C. "I know there are two good goalies here and we have two games to see what happens. I just noticed two weeks ago that (Pogge)was a Maple Leafs pick and it would be great to play against him. We'll see after these two games."

The Finns play Latvia tonight in Burnaby, B.C., and Slovakia in North Delta, B.C., on Friday.

Aravirta made it clear he would have no problem choosing either Rask or Ramo.

"They are quite even," Aravirta said. "They are both going to play one game and we will decide after that. We would like to see them in these games first. We have confidence in both of our goalies."

Still, it's hard to see that Rask, won't be in goal at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver on Monday. The 18-year-old was Finland's starter at the world junior a year ago and he is seen as yet another of the top young goalie prospects to emerge from the Scandinavian country.

The Leafs are high on him and it would not be a shock if he is signed sometime in the near future.

"I haven't talked to anyone but we will see after the tournament,"Rask said. "Maybe we will know more then."

Once Rask signs, he will join Pogge on the Leafs' list of employees. On Monday night, Pogge signed a three-year entry level deal with Toronto, one that will pay him a $525,000 signing bonus on top of annual salaries of $450,000, $500,000 and $550,000 US. In the minors, he would make $70,300.

Perhaps Pogge one day will buy dinner for Ed Belfour and Mikael Tellqvist, who called him with congratulations after he made Canada's roster last week.

"I'm excited and I'm proud to sign," Pogge said. "And it meant a lot to me that Eddie and Mikael called last week. Eddie was a really good guy and I have learned a lot from him already."


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