Pogge's progress is just his way

TERRY KOSHAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:25 AM ET

Justin Pogge doesn't feel the need to get in Steve Mason's head.

Selected two years after Pogge in the annual National Hockey League entry draft, it's Mason who is Calder Trophy material, while Pogge, the Leafs' first pick, 90th overall, in 2004, is struggling to get his NHL career off the ground.

Pogge will make his second consecutive start for the Maple Leafs tonight when Mason and the Columbus Blue Jackets visit. Mason probably will be the guy standing at the other end of the ice during the national anthems.

But Pogge doesn't sit and wonder why Mason has made a greater impact in the NHL than he has to this point.

"Mason has that perfect mix of being calm and having a little bit of passion," Pogge said. "It's working for him, and all the best to him. I wish I could do that every night, but some guys mature a lot quicker than others."

Though the expectation was that Mason, a native of Oakville, would get his first start at the Air Canada Centre, Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock refused to tell reporters as much yesterday, leaving the possibility that Wade Dubielewicz might get the nod. Mason recently returned from a bout with mononucleosis.

"It depends on (Mason's) energy level," said Hitchcock, whose team played at home last night versus the St. Louis Blues. "It's not based on him being from Oakville or anything like that. We're hopeful he can play every game. But if he doesn't feel good, we're not going to put him in."

Though Pogge lost to the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night, he was able to poke fun at himself. Pogge was good for 40 minutes against the Sabres, but not so much in the first period, when he allowed three goals on eight shots.

"I'm looking forward to playing three periods this time, and not just two," Pogge said.

Pogge's mini string probably will end when Mats Sundin and the Vancouver Canucks hit town on Saturday night. Leafs coach Ron Wilson reiterated yesterday that No. 1 netminder Vesa Toskala has been cleared after a precautionary MRI on his hip. Toskala wanted to practise yesterday, but Wilson gave him the day off. Wilson expects Toskala to be ready to play against the Canucks.

For the time being, Pogge will try to get a handle on some scary numbers.

Granted, he's just four games into an NHL tenure that has no guarantee of longevity, but the 22-year-old doesn't like the .837 save percentage he has compiled. The 4.25 goals-against average also stinks.

But he's not overly concerned. Pogge's first year in the Western Hockey League with the Prince George Cougars and his first in pro hockey with the Marlies included personal losing records. Pogge is okay with where he is now.

"I have never had anything work out for me right away, ever," Pogge said. "I have always had to work at it. I like it that way. If everything went perfectly off the start, I would not learn very much.

"The more experience I got, the better I got and the more confidence I had."


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