Pogge getting hang of it

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 2:31 PM ET

Hockey at the professional level, even if it is the American Hockey League, is a much different animal than junior.

Justin Pogge has been learning that lesson for the past month or so with the Toronto Marlies.

"I'm starting to catch up to the shots and the pace of the game, and it's starting to feel like (normal) hockey again," Pogge said yesterday after making 35 saves in a 2-1 loss to the Hamilton Bulldogs at the Air Canada Centre.

"I'm feeling confident. I'm not going to say I am totally adjusted but I am coming along pretty well."

The 20-year-old goalkeeper had the junior hockey world in the palm of his hand last season. Pogge had three shutouts among his six wins as Canada won gold at the world junior in Vancouver. He then capped a stellar season with Calgary of the Western Hockey League when he was named Canadian Hockey League goalie of the year.

Finally, the Maple Leafs cemented Pogge's status as their goalie of the future when fellow blue-chipper Tuukka Rask was dealt to the Boston Bruins for Andrew Raycroft.

But there will be no rush to get Pogge to the NHL. He was told by Leafs goaltending coach Steve McKichan during the summer to forget about the accolades he earned last season and simply concentrate on improving.

"For a young athlete, he is an explosive home-run hitter with the gross movements (in net)," McKichan said.

"To become a great pro, you have to be able to refine what you are doing -- be an on-base guy who can do little tiny things.

"(The adjustment) has not been super-easy for him. He has a strong fundamental game and once the cognitive side matches up, then you have yourself a big-time NHL goalie."

The 6-foot-3, 198-pound Pogge has won just two of seven AHL decisions but carried a 2.68 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage into yesterday.

Marlies coach Greg Gilbert has no trouble investing lots of patience in Pogge. Gilbert did not expect his goaltending prospect to catch on over night.

"He has been okay," Gilbert said. "He is working hard. It's a major leap. I am just waiting for someone (either Pogge or Jean-Francois Racine) to grab the bull by the horns. (Pogge) has to learn how to read the game quicker. But his work ethic has been outstanding."


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