Matt's all, folks

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:00 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- Originally Matt Keetley wasn't in the plans.

The Medicine Hat Tigers did not sign the hometown product expecting him to blossom into the team's starter.

They didn't expect Keetley would lead the Tigers to the Western Hockey League title earning MVP honours along the way.

BEYOND EXPECTATION

They didn't expect his last game with the team would be the Memorial Cup final.

"He's a great story," said Tigers head coach Willie Desjardins. "Keets was with us when we went to the Memorial Cup in Kelowna (2004) and we didn't even think he'd make our team the following year.

"He worked real hard to get himself in shape to play and make himself a goaltender."

Keetley was originally passed over in the WHL Bantam Draft. He was essentially a walk-on and got an opportunity to dress because the Tigers needed an emergency backup.

From there Keetley battled to stay with the team and eventually became their No.1 goaltender.

"I think he still has a lot to prove," Desjardins said. "All through the playoffs, nobody really, totally respected his ability. The playoffs were his chance to show what kind of a goaltender he really was. He's played well for us so far in the playoffs."

This is Keetley's second Memorial Cup experience. He went to the 2004 tournament in Kelowna as Kevin Nastiuk's backup, having played in just three games that year - 72 minutes in total.

The following year Keetley played in 32 regular-season games and three playoff games. That summer he was selected by the Calgary Flames in the fifth round - 158th overall - of the NHL Entry Draft.

When Nastiuk - an Edmonton native and fourth-round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2003 - left the following season, it was Keetley's starting job to win. He won it with the help of an intensive off-season training program that transformed him from an average backup goaltender to an elite WHL goaltender.

He won 42 regular-season games as the starter and led the Tigers to the conference final. This season he won another 42 games and has the Tigers in the Memorial Cup final.

A win Sunday would immortalize Keetley with Trevor Linden, the last Medicine Hat native to win the Memorial Cup.

"I haven't really thought about it yet," Keetley said.

"It's really exciting though. We haven't seen a Memorial Cup since 1988 and it would be a dream come true to bring it home."

Keetley's dream came a little closer to reality thanks to a 29-save shutout against the Vancouver Giants on Wednesday. He was outstanding in the contest, earning first-star honours. He was especially sharp when the Giants were on two-man advantage in the second period.

"It was a little tough at first," Keetley said. "I knew they were going to come out there and fire everything at the net. You have to give the guys a lot of credit in the first period, they really did a good job of clearing the puck. Then in the second and third I was able to calm down.

"Then I think they only had seven shots in the third period so the guys did a really good job."

Wednesday's win gave the Tigers first place after the round robin and vaulted them directly into the final.

Had they lost, the Tigers would have fallen to fourth place and would have needed to play in last night's tiebreaker game in order to get a chance to play in the semifinal.

"I don't think we would've had a chance to win the tournament had we fallen into the tiebreaker," said Desjardins. "That game was really critical for us. So we had to play as hard as we could and we were fortunate enough to get the win."


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