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Friday, 19 October 2012 09:08

Laurikainen making team and fans believers

Written by  Brad Brown
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Through no fault of his own, Eetu Laurikainen didn’t seem destined to win any popularity contests when the Swift Current Broncos selected him 20th overall in this year’s CHL Import Draft.


After all, the Broncos had already been burned twice at the draft in the last three years using first round picks on European goalies who wouldn’t play a minute in the Western Hockey League.
So the fans rolled their eyes.
Then Laurikainen showed up.
Progress.
Less than 120 minutes of regular season hockey later, Laurikainen cemented his status as one of the team’s new fan favourites.
Stopping 27 of 28 shots in a 7-1 home-opener rout of the Moose Jaw Warriors will do that for a guy.
So will feeding one of said opponent’s forwards a retaliatory face full of blocker during a late-game dust-up.
“That was nice,” Laurikainen recalled with a laugh.
If the players here skate faster, shoot harder and give the goalies a few more whacks than in his native Finland (“I think those are the biggest differences,” he says), consider Laurikainen right at home.
Just a bit on the small side for a WHL goaltender, Laurikainen has used both his hockey sense — cutting down angles to make shooters miss — and athleticism to establish himself as one of the league’s top netminders.
He entered Wednesday’s game against the Everett Silvertips seventh overall and third among undisputed starters in both save percentage (.919) and goals-against average (2.41).
Comfortable? That’s old news.
“I think I was right from the first game because I had a pretty good preseason and so that helps a lot,” said Laurikainen.
They might not know how to spell his last name, but Laurikainen’s teammates and opponents have both learned in a hurry who he is.
On Oct. 9, he was named the Canadian Hockey League’s goaltender of the week and, going into the Everett match, had yet to give up more than four goals in a game or lose by more than one goal.
“Since I’ve known him he hasn’t been rattled once in practice,” said Broncos head coach and general manager Mark Lamb. “I saw him get mad after Brandon scored the shootout goal (Sept. 28), he turned around and he drilled the post. That’s the most emotional or rattled I’ve seen him since he’s been here. He’s pretty even-keeled.”
The Broncos’ work in net is far from over. Questions remain.
Can Laurikainen maintain his consistency for a full season?
Would he return for his over-age season next year?
Will 17-year-old backup Landon Bow become Swift Current’s goalie of the future?
What will become of Steven Myland, the goalie acquired as part of the Cody Eakin trade, now toiling for the North Delta Devils of the Pacific Junior Hockey League junior B loop?
But the early returns have been encouraging and given Lamb and his players a sense of security in net they haven’t known in several years.
“We’ve put a lot of work into it,” said Lamb. “It’s a position that every team needs. You win and lose with your goaltending ... and you can see it around the league right now. Some of the teams that are playing really well are coming up short and it’s all to do with the goaltending.”

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