(Article Courtesy Martin Martinson/BattlefordsNow.com)
From the drop of the puck on the Battlefords North Stars first game of the tournament at this week’s Centennial Cup, goaltender Josh Kotai has turned heads on the national stage.
Through four games of the round robin against the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s best, Kotai has posted a lights-out 1.75 goals against average and .944 save percentage, holding the opposition to just a single goal in wins over the SIJHL champs from Kam River, and the MJHL champs from Steinbach, while surrendering two goals or fewer in three of the four games.
Kotai’s play has been a driving force for the North Stars, who Wednesday night officially clinched top spot in their Group, earning a bye to the semi-finals of the playoff rounds. This made it no surprise to see the Abbotsford, BC., product announced as the Centennial Cup’s Top Goaltender when the tournament awards were announced, Thursday.
While only natural for many to feel a certain nervousness on the biggest stage, in Kotai’s case, the Stars’ netminder has proven to remain ice cold and at his best in the biggest games and moments.
Coming off a dominant first season in the SJHL, that saw the just recently-turned 20-year-old post a league-high 32 wins, 2.39 goals against average and .935 save percentage to earn SJHL Top Goaltender honours, #30’s play has only continued to hit new levels since.
In the SJHL playoffs, Kotai backstopped the Stars to the league championship with a 12-1 record, sporting an eye-grabbing 1.72 goals against, and .945 save percentage, numbers only reached by one other netminder on a championship run in the SJHL over the last 15-plus years.
“It’s just fun to play in [those big games],” Kotai said, letting out a smile. “Those are the games you want to thrive in and you want to succeed in the most, so I think just being able to focus in has helped me be able to play at my best.”
Perhaps no one knows better the confidence Kotai instills in his team better than North Stars bench-boss and recently named CJHL Coach of the Year, Brayden Klimosko, who spoke to what it meant to see Kotai named to the award.
“He deserves it 100 percent,” Klimosko said. “He’s kept us in some big games there with some big saves and he’s earned that honour. He’s a gamer and he’s obviously been a big part of [the team’s success], and we’re going to need him here in the next two games.”
Kotai and his North Stars’ teammates will return to play in semi-finals action Saturday, against the higher seed of the two teams to make it out of quarter-final play. Saturday’s game will be at either 2:30 p.m. or 6:30 p.m. with the NAPA Auto Parts North Stars Hockey Broadcast available either way on 1050 CJNB.
The Ultra Print Pregame Show will begin 30 minutes prior to puck drop (at 2 p.m. or 6 p.m. Sask time).
The North Stars await word on which time they will play, as the Brooks Bandits get to choose which they want as the highest seed remaining overall, having won the other Group with a tournament-high 12 points.