Pogge tossed into fire

Goalie Justin Pogge has a laugh at Leafs practice yesterday. (Sun Media/Michael Peake)

Goalie Justin Pogge has a laugh at Leafs practice yesterday. (Sun Media/Michael Peake)

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 2:13 PM ET

ATLANTA -- The future has arrived for the Maple Leafs' goalie of the future.

The club called up Justin Pogge, 22, from the Marlies yesterday with the plan to stick him in net tonight here against the Atlanta Thrashers. The main purpose for the callup at this particular time -- the official reason, at least -- is because starting goaltender, Vesa Toskala, came out of Toronto's 7-3 win over in Pittsburgh on Saturday night with a sore groin.

"We want to give Justin a look," Leafs president and general manager Brian Burke said yesterday. "I'm also worried about fatigue with Vesa."

That fatigue has a lot to do with the fact that head coach Ron Wilson has leaned heavily on Toskala this season, partly because backup Curtis Joseph has been inconsistent.

Indeed, Joseph admits that he is struggling to find his game. The 19-year veteran has a save percentage of .838 and a goals-average of 4.33 in seven appearances this year, drastically sub-par for him.

Still, neither Wilson nor Burke will admit to have given up on Joseph, even though it is Pogge, who has yet to play a regular-season game in the NHL, who gets the call tonight.

Joseph, who needs just one victory for career win No. 450 in the NHL, could start tomorrow night back at the Air Canada Centre against the Dallas Stars, but only if Pogge struggles tonight.

In any event, Burke said yesterday that the Leafs will not carry three goaltenders for long and that Pogge likely will be sent back to the Marlies unless he shines at the NHL level. In that case, the word is the Leafs may let Joseph go.

For Pogge, the Leafs' top pick -- albeit in the third round -- in 2004, finally getting the chance to play at the NHL level after two full seasons in the minors is as much a relief as it is exciting.

"I definitely put in a lot of time with the Marlies, but I'm glad to get a chance and I'm looking to prove myself," he said last night, after arriving in Atlanta from snowbound Hartford where the Marlies played yesterday.

Pogge long has been considered the club's future between the pipes -- particularly after his stellar performance at the 2006 world junior hockey championship. At that event, the Fort McMurray, Alta., native went 6-0 with three shutouts in helping Canada win the gold medal.

Pogge had good results with the Marlies last seasson (26-10-4 and a save percentage of .908). He has struggled at times this season (.890), but said he is ready for the chance to play at the NHL level, and credits the Leafs' new goalies coach, Corey Hirsch, with helping improve parts of his game, especially stick-handling and positioning.

"I'll be the first one to say I haven't played my best hockey this year, but I've been playing pretty solid and getting better," he said. "I've been working on my game the last three years to try not to do too much."

"Sure, you get anxious. You want to play (in the NHL). That's why we're all here." said Pogge, who was informed of the promotion on Friday. "You kind of just jump in there with two feet and see how it goes. I didn't have any expectations. I don't put a timeline on my career. I can only play well."

"But I definitely worked for it, and I'm glad to be here right now."


Photos