This is the first installment of a four-part preview leading up to the Fred Page Cup Final. Today we start with the two masked-men, the goalies in this series and arguably two of the top ‘tenders in the BCHL. Chad Katunar and Michael Santaguida are in today’s spotlight and the two have been very good for their teams in the post-season.
Santaguida is first in pretty much every statistical category in the playoffs, as he has the most wins (10) and shutouts (3, to go along with the best goals-against (1.61) and save-percentage (.956); looks pretty much unbeatable. No, no one is unbeatable but you get my point, the kids been air-tight and goals against have been few and far between.
The wile ole’ vet isn’t a slouch either, as Katunar is in the top three in every goaltending category. Katunar is second in wins (8), third in goals-against average (2.15) and also third in save-percentage (.926). Even though he’s been touched up for 15 goals in five games, Katunar was fantastic against the West Kelowna Warriors, especially in games three through five. Really, 15 goals in five games against the highest scoring team in the BCHL is nothing to hang your head about. Katunar also has experience on his side, as he’s played 24 career playoff games, four of which were in last year’s BCHL final against Powell River; something that shouldn’t be disregarded.
Though both teams have plenty of fire-power upfront, I don’t expect a whole heck of a lot of scoring in this series. I would be surprised if we see scores of 4-3 or 5-4. I would take the under on a five goal spread. These two goalies are just too good and both teams defensively are too sound to have the red light working overtime.
Behind the Mask: Michael Santaguida
The Surrey netminder hasn’t necessarily come out of nowhere but has raised a few eyebrows with his sensational play in the playoffs; a word not used lightly. His numbers are simply out of this world, owning a minuscule goals-against average and a sparkling save-percentage to go along with three shutouts. To put that in perspective, Chad Katunar had two shutouts in 15 games last post-season; Santaguida has one more in four less games played.
The Mississauga, Ontario product started his first career post-season game in style with a 2-0 shutout win over the Langley Rivermen in the Mainland Division Semi-Final. It wasn’t a light workload either, as Santaguida did make 33 saves in the win and had to deal with a pressing Rivermen squad in the third period. He was nearly unbeatable the next night, only surrendering one goal but that was all the Rivermen needed winning 1-0. The Eagles offense woke up after that and came up with 12 goals in the next two games to take the series in four. Santaguida stopped 56 of the final 61 shots he faced.
He seemed to get on a roll after that, as he and the Eagles swept the Chilliwack Chiefs in the Mainland Division Final. Santaguida posted his second shutout of the playoffs in game one, stopping 35 shots in the Eagles 4-0 win. He did show a bit of chink in his armour in game two, surrendering four goals but the Eagles still prevailed 5-4. However, that was his only “weak” moment of that series as he stopped 45 of 47 shots in the deciding game of the series; 3-2 overtime win in game three.
It was the same old story in the Coastal Conference Final against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs. Santaguida didn’t surrender more than two goals in any of the four games. Like the two series prior, Santaguida posted a shutout in game one; another 1-0 triumph. The following game he was dialed-in making 31 saves in a 3-2 overtime win. The series then shifted to the Island and Santaguida didn’t miss a beat, as he made 49 saves in another 3-2 overtime win in game three. Game four wasn’t as dramatic but he got the job done, stopping all but two of the 38 shots he faced, as the Eagles swept the ‘Dogs with a 5-2 win.
Some argue goalies on good teams are a reflection of the team that plays in front of them and that’s true to a certain extent. That’s why goals-against is more of a team reflection than a goalies and the true way to judge a goalie is by his save-percentage. Well, this just in folks: Santaguida is darn good. Through 11 playoff games, the Eagles have surrendered roughly on average 36.8 shots per game. Santaguida faced 33 shots per-game in round one, 40.7 in round two and 37.8 in round three. He’s faced 405 shots thus far and has only surrendered 18 goals. Santaguida’s save-percentage never dipped below .950 in any of the three series. He posted save-percentage numbers of .955, .951 and .960 in the first three rounds. Opponents have only scored more than two goals twice in 11 games and once he’s allowed four goals and the Eagles STILL won.
What is the most impressive quality about Santaguida is his compete level, as he never seems to quit on a play. Santaguida is only listed as 5’9 on the BCHL website and sometimes those numbers can be fudged. Regardless, he is on the “smaller” side of goaltenders but he still finds a way to be big in the net. I might sound crazy when I say this but I see similarities in his game to that of former Boston Bruin Tim Thomas. Thomas is three inches taller but both are smaller goalies but both still manage to play big in their net. Like Thomas, Santaguida competes his tail off and never seems to be down and out on a play. In the two games he played against the Vees, Santaguida made a few goal-line stands that left you scratching your head. Usually when you’re facing a goaltender of his stature, you’re going to see some net to shoot at, but like Thomas, Santaguida does an excellent job at playing the angles and using those angles to take away space. By the way, Thomas was a Vermont guy and Santaguida is committed to play for the Catamounts next fall; just saying. Though I don’t know if Santaguida is a big bow hunter or takes to Facebook to express his political agenda.
One other thing to keep in mind is the fact that he’s an excellent puck handler, well from the two games I saw anyway. Santaguida isn’t shy about coming out of his crease to take play a puck from behind the net or coming out in front to through a pass to the oppositions blue-line. He can look pretty nonchalant doing it too, as he rarely panics when handling the rubber. This is something the Vees are going to have to try and neutralize with their fore-check. A good puck-playing goaltender can act like a third defensemen and that can really cause problems for a team trying to establish a presence down-low.
- Santaguida was 1-0-0-1 against the Vees in the regular season. He was tagged with just four goals in the two games and had a combined .945 save-percentage against the Vees.
- Never lost back-to-back starts in the regular season. Twice he posted two-game “winless” streaks; tying then losing his next start. First on December 14th and 15th (versus Powell River & Prince George) and then on January 18th and 19th (home-and-home versus West Kelowna).
- His longest winning streak as a starter was four games and matched that streak three other times throughout the course of the regular season.
Behind the Mask: Chad Katunar
Chad Katunar comes into this Fred Page Cup Final as the experienced veteran, a stark contrast to just one year ago. Katunar was thrust into the starter’s role just before the playoffs last season when Mike Garteig went down with a lower-body injury. He played just over a dozen games in the regular season before Garteig’s injury but didn’t take long to establish himself as a capable replacement. Katunar won six of his final seven starts and showed that he could be a number one if called upon.
The real magic came in the playoffs where he won 12 of the 15 games the Vees played en route to their second Fred Page Cup in five years. That spring he posted a 1.73 goals-against average and .938 save-percentage. Katunar always seemed to step up his game when he needed to and always seemed to come up with the big save. I remember in game three against Powell River, Katunar robbed the Kings Cohen Adair on a breakaway in overtime, with a lunging right-pad save. A few minutes later Wade Murphy scores to give the Vees a commanding 3-0 series lead. It was moments like that, coming up with clutch saves, was a big reason why the Vees won their league and got a change at the RBC Cup.
That experience last year no doubt is valuable to have for this go around in the league final. It’s not the great unknown as it might have been last year for the goalie and now he knows what to expect and what type of pressure he will be under; that goes a long way in battling any nerves. Katunar is good at riding out the highs and lows that come in the playoffs. He never gets too animated when the Vees score (unless it’s in overtime), nor does he get too worked up when the opposition scores. He has this ability to forget and move on, regardless if it’s a win or a loss. At this stage of the game, playing in these pressure cookers, being strong mentality is as important as anything you do physically. Once self-doubt creeps in, when you start second-guessing yourself, then you’re in trouble; that doesn’t seem to happen with Katunar.
Katunar’s numbers may not be in the Santaguida realm but they are nothing to look past. Through nine playoff games, he’s second in wins and third in goals-against and save-percentage. Goalies admittedly don’t get too worked up over numbers in the post-season, as it’s all about winning and losing. However, goalies do take proud in the stat line associated with their name and Katunar has plenty to be happy about.
By his lofty standards, he didn’t come out of the blocks running in games one and two versus Salmon Arm. That after he only surrendered two goals in each of the two games; goes to show how good he is. Katunar did put on a show in both games three and four when the series shifted to Salmon Arm. Katunar was brilliant early in game three when the Silverbacks were pressing and finished with 29 saves in a 3-1 win. He followed that up with another great first period in game four when he stood on his head during a Silverbacks five-on-three man-advantage. The Vees killed-off that penalty and promptly scored on a power-play of their own and from there cruised to a 5-1 win. Like I alluded to, Katunar in games three and four found a way to make a crucial save at a key time.
I Thought Katunar was even better in the series against the West Kelowna Warriors. Yes, the Tribe did score 15 goals in five games, including nine over the course of games three and four, but Katunar was very sound and at times stellar. In game one he and the Vees gutted out a 6-4 win over the Warriors, after the Tribe had a 2-0 first period lead. The key there was he didn’t allow West Kelowna to get that third goal in the period to maybe put the game out of reach. West Kelowna did mount a rally in the third but with late pressure in the final two minutes, Katunar didn’t buckle and kept the puck out of the net.
In game two it was a pretty textbook performance by the Vees goalie in the team’s 5-1 win. Katunar’s rebound control was spot-on throughout the game and he swallowed up everything around his crease. He even made a couple breakaway saves in the contest to help the Vees to a 2-0 series lead. Game three might have been his best showing of the series. Katunar stood on his head in the second period, when the Warriors were up 4-2 and looking to put the game away. The save that stands out for me is his desperation blocker save off David Pope. If that puck goes in, it’s 5-2 late in the second for the Tribe and maybe a hole the Vees were not going to dig out of. The score could have easily gotten away from the Vees if it wasn’t for Katunar’s heroics in that period. The final stat line had Katunar down for 54 saves on 58 Warrior shots in the Vees double-overtime win; another sparkling performance in another pivotal game three.
After a loss you couldn’t hang on the goalie in game four, Katunar was at the top of his game again in game five. The Warriors had plenty of pressure on the Vees in the first forty-minutes, as they weren’t going to down without a fight. Katunar was solid in the first period but really came up large in the second. Katunar only allowed one goal in that period and that came off the glove of Reid Simmonds. He also had another great breakaway save with the left-pad that I thought swung the momentum in the Vees favour heading into the third.
Even though the stats might tell a different story, Katunar over the course of the five games, was at his best. Remember, the Warriors were the highest scoring team in the regular season and had a roster riddled with veterans and scorers. Throughout the series, he faced waves of pressure from the Warriors but always seemed to come up with timely saves; sound familiar?
Katunar may seem unorthodox to some, like Santaguida, he’s a goalie that battles in his crease and will do anything to make the save. He has great reactionary skills and with his size he covers a lot of ground. Even though Katunar and Santaguida are at the opposite ends of the physical spectrum, they both share a very important quality; competiveness.
Katunar didn’t face the Eagles in the regular season, so there is a bit of unknown for the goalie and the Eagles shooters. That will quickly fade once game one gets going but one thing that is known for certain, is that Katunar will face another stiff challenge. One thing I’ve come to know about Katunar in almost two seasons now, is that he loves his challenges.
Katunar is also an excellent puck-handler and that will benefit the Vees transition game, especially on Surrey’s Olympic size ice. The Eagles will also be tasked with trying to keep the puck away from Katunar and not allow him to help establish the Vees patented transition game. Both teams have goalies who can play the puck and both teams fore-check will be challenged; should be found to watch.
- Career playoff numbers: GP 24 20-4-0 1.89 GAA .933 SV% 2 SO.
- Katunar has won 15 of his last 16 playoff starts going back to last year’s post-season.
- Katunar has only allowed two or less goals in six of his nine starts; four one-goal games.