Pogge has to earn it

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:56 AM ET

The Maple Leafs had the Vesa Toskala -- Andrew Raycroft Goalie-gate at the start of their season, while the farm team Marlies ended the year in a controversy with Scott Clemmensen and Justin Pogge.

Coach Greg Gilbert had many fans and media on his case for starting the veteran Clemmensen in the playoffs ahead of Pogge, the franchise's goalie of the future. Clemmensen helped take the team deep into post-season play, while Pogge started only the final two games of last week's Western Conference final against the Chicago Wolves, winning one, losing the deciding game.

Using Pogge in more pressure situations would've been valuable experience and could've enhanced his value to the Leafs as a challenger to the No. 1 job or a trade commodity. Toronto's interim general manager Cliff Fletcher said he didn't interfere with Gilbert's choice to either start Clemmensen or go back to Pogge, but defended the coach.

"It wasn't fair to the rest of the team, to not go with the goalie he thought gave it the best chance of winning," Fletcher said. "It was based on what happened in the last month of the regular season."

Comparing their last six regular-season starts, Pogge was 5-1 with 12 goals against, Clemmensen 3-1-2 with 14 on him. It came down to the 30-year-old Clemmensen's experience as Martin Brodeur's back-up in New Jersey. But Fletcher doesn't think the 22-year-old Pogge will suffer long-term from the slight.

"Goalkeeping is a difficult position and the mental aspect is such a big part," Fletcher conceded, "but a young guy also has to prove himself."

Pogge will enter his third AHL season with the chance of playing around 50 to 60 games. Unrestricted free agent Clemmensen could leave or replace Raycroft if he's not traded or bought out as Toskala's back-up. Pogge played fewer games last year than his rookie season, but had a better record, thanks in part to Clemmensen spelling him off.

While several Marlie skaters did well in the playoff run, top forward prospect Jiri Tlusty wasn't one of them. After two goals at the start, he had none in his next 18 games.

"He hit the wall after a long season," Fletcher conceded, "but it was more games than he ever played before. We thought he played a lot better in Toronto once he had some better linemates (six points in his final 10 Leaf games)."

Fletcher said he was pleased with Gilbert's overall performance and plans on having him back for the last year of his contract.


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