Following not cracking the Prince George Cougars in his first year of major junior eligibility, Matt Kustra set his sights on playing for the Yorkton Terriers this season.
“It would have been great to make Prince George, but I know it’s a hard league to play in as a 16-year-old goalie,” Kustra said. “I’m now hoping to make the Terriers. I talked to them and they said I’d play some exhibition games for them.
Kustra sees value in playing for the Terriers beyond making the jump to junior hockey. He believes it would be ‘special’ to play for his hometown club and get to move back to Yorkton for his Grade 11 year.
“It would be great to get to live in Yorkton for one more year,” said Kustra, who lived in Wilcox the past two years while playing for the Notre Dame Hounds program. “I missed living here before and it would be great to come back. Playing for the Terriers would be also special. That’s the team I grew up watching and it would be great opportunity to play for them.”
It is somewhat up in the air whether the Terriers will have a goalie opening. Kale Thomson is slated to return for his overage season. Dawson MacAuley, meanwhile, is aiming to crack the Regina Pats. MacAuley does have a shot at cracking the Pats, but he’s by no means a lock. There is also the possibility the Terriers could trade one of the two to make room for Kustra.
Whether a spot opens up or not, the 5-foot-9, 180-pound Kustra is just going to take it one shot at a time.
“I can’t really worry about that stuff (whether MacAuley returns or a goalie gets traded),” said Kustra. “I’m just going to do the best I can and hope they notice it and give me a shot.”
Kustra missed Terriers training camp this past weekend because he was on the Cougars’ pre-season road trip. Although he would have liked to take part in Yorkton’s camp, he feels his experience in Prince George groomed him for the SJHL jump.
“The (Prince George) camp was a really good experience,” said Kustra. “I felt I played really well. In an inter-squad game, I got a shutout and played one of the best games I ever have. It boosted my confidence and I think it helped prepare me to play junior hockey this year.”
“The exhibition game against the (Red Deer) Rebels (on Aug. 31) was nerve racking because it was my first WHL game, but I was happy to gain that experience (which included stopping nine of 11 shots). During the season, I backed up for a game, but I never actually played. It was good to get on the ice.”
Kustra’s strong training camp in Prince George caught the eye of Cougars scout Jason Gordon.
“I’ve been really impressed by Matt’s development,” said Gordon. “At the camp, he played right with the other three goalies and was the youngest of the group. He’s showing consistent improvements and has shown through his work ethic that he has a bright future ahead of him.”
If Kustra doesn’t crack the Terriers, he will head back to Wilcox for a second season in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League.
“I think it’s a really good back-up plan,” said Kustra. “If I go back I hope to play a lot of games and it should be a great opportunity.”