The Yorkton Terriers topped most key team categories: points, goals for and goals against.
But it was also a big Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League campaign for Terrier netminder Kale Thomson.
Thomson appeared in a league-leading 45 games, and won 31 of those starts. His goals against average was 1.89 and he had a save percentage of .934.
Among the 31-wins was a record setting eight shut-outs, a season best in the SJHL breaking the old mark of seven set by Taylor Nelson.
Thomson’s career mark of 10 shutouts ties him with Nelson for second overall behind former Weyburn Red Wing AJ Whiffen, who posted 11 in his career.
“I’t’s pretty cool,” said the 20-year-old netminder. “Obviously holding a record is cool. I’ve never held a record in anything else.”
Thomson said he only learned of his achievement via some Twitter posts online. “I was surprised,” he said. He said he had actually talked about the record pre-season, and was told it was “around 10” so he had thought he had fallen short of the mark.
Thomson added with a smile as he looks back on the season “I could have had two or three more.”
Thomson then quickly turned the focus away from himself.
“Obviously a lot of it has to do with the team in front of me too,” he said. “… A lot of guys are out there every night blocking a lot of shots.”
Thomson added that even the forwards have contributed to his success, noting “they were keeping guys to the outside,” so when shots did come his way, he could see them.
Thomson, who started the 2012-13 as the Terrier starter, but saw Dawson MacAuley get the bulk of the post Christmas work, said it is gratifying to have a solid campaign this season, adding he credits having lots of action with keeping him on top of his game.
“I got to play lots of games right from the start,” he said, adding he feels he played pretty good throughout the season.
“I was able to go in there every night and was able to gain some confidence,” he said.
Thomson said that is the big difference from a season earlier when a bad game might have you sitting for two or three.
“You didn’t get to play and that was kind of hard to deal with,” he said.
“This year I played a lot of games … I found it a lot easier getting to play a couple of times week … There was maybe a handful I wasn’t very happy with my performance, but every goalie has a couple of bad games.”
This season a poor outing simply seemed to refocus Thomson and the entire Terrier team.
One example was a late season shut-out loss in Nipawin, a 5-0 drubbing by the Hawks.
Thomson recalled the game. The Terriers had played the night before, and the Hawks “came to play that night,” he said. The Terriers gave up a couple of early two-on-ones, resulting in “a couple of nice goals,” and the Terriers never recovered.
“We weren’t very happy with that one,” said Thomson, adding as a team they also recognized one loss “wasn’t the end of the world.” They also realized “we can’t have that sort of thing happening,” and the team responded the rest of the season.
As is often the case in Junior hockey, the Terriers had nights where they shut down opponents limiting shots to a handful a period, and there were nights Thomson faced a lot of rubber in net.
“I had quite a few games with 20-30 shots and only a handful of scoring chances,” he said. “I learned how to deal with it, to stay focused and follow the play.”
And there were games when Thomson faced 50-plus shots.
“Some days you just want to limit their real scoring chances,” he said.
Interestingly, Thomson does not recall each shut-out with any clarity.
“I can remember a couple of them; my first one in North Battleford I had close to 50-shots,” he said. “That was probably the best game.”
In the end, Thomson said a goaltender needs to make saves at points in a game where it matters most. He pointed to a game near season’s end when the Terriers would roll over Nipawin 11-1 at the Farrell Agencies Arena.
As lopsided as the final score was, Thomson noted “they had a few scoring chances right off the start of the game,” but in turning away those chances he allowed the Terriers to find their stride and dominate.
Thomson is hoping the record, combined with his strong season, lead to future opportunities in hockey, preferably at the college level next.
“I’ve talked to a few (college scouts) throughout the year,” he said, adding a couple are showing continued interest. “I’m just making up my mind what to do. I’d like to go to college.”
Thomson said whether that college is in the United States or Canada has yet to be determined. He is leaning toward human justice in college with an eye “to becoming a police officer down the road.”
But college can wait as Thomson and the Terriers ready for the SJHL playoffs.
Following a 1-0 loss in the Western Cup final last year that kept the Terriers from advancing to the Royal Bank Cup, the Terrier netminder said there is a sense of unfinished business with the team.
“There was some high expectations for us (from the public),” he said. “And we have some high expectations for ourselves.”
Thomson said an RBC berth “is where the goal is,” but added the team doesn’t want to look too far ahead either. “We want to focus on one series at a time.”
With the Terriers topping the league they must wait as teams ranked seventh through 10th in the league battle it out in a pair of series to gain admittance to the final eight. It means the Terriers can’t prepare for a specific team in practice.
Thomson said they’ll just have to focus on their own game until an opponent is finalized.
“If we play our best game we should do well against just about anyone,” he offered.
In his own case Thomson said he’ll just practice as he has all season.
“I try and practice hard, like I play a game,” he said.
While many goaltenders are known for their quirks in preparing to play, Thomson said he doesn’t have any rituals or superstitions that are part of his preparation.
Thomson said in the dressing room the “guys know what they have to do, and are serious about it,” although they are not above some laughs when the mood arises. “… The guys have fun, but know when to take it seriously too … We don’t get too high, and we don’t get too low either.”
Being in net for a league championship win would be huge for Thomson, who was on the bench when it happened last season. Such a win would put an exclamation point on a three-year Junior career for the netminder who grew up dreaming of being a Terrier.
“I grew up watching these guys,” he said. “… My Dad started bringing me to games when I was four, or five. I remember watching Trent (Terrier coach Trent Cassan) play … I was in the stands in 05/06 when they won.”
As a Terrier fan and goaltender Thomson said his favourite player was Kevin Dziaduck.
“He had bright orange pads. He was pretty flashing. He made big glove saves,” said Thomson.
Thomson would play minor hockey in the city, then AAA Midget with the Harvest being called up as an affiliated player back-up for the Terriers his first time at age 15.
“Ed Zawatsky (then Terrier coach) called me to come up. I was a little out of my comfort zone, the guys were all older and shot pretty hard,” he recalled. Still he remembers the game sitting on the bench opening the player door against Weyburn. “It was just being part of it.
“It was my goal to play here, and now I’ve had a good three years … It’s pretty special to suit up and play in front of friends and family,” he said,
Thomson will start his playoff run with the Terriers in the quarter-finals which is expected to start Friday, March 14th.