Justin Paulic went from watching from the rafters to standing between the pipes with the Moose Jaw Warriors’ season on the line.
The 16-year-old rookie was tremendous as he made 28 saves and shook off five weeks worth of rust in a 5-1 Warriors win.
“It was different. I had to remember what I do (to prepare) for games,” said Paulic. After being handed the biggest start of his young career he just tried to keep everything in perspective before taking to the ice.
“It’s just a game. It’s the same game that you’ve always played,” he added.
He played the game brilliantly Wednesday as he was sharp in the first two periods and then elevated his game in final two minutes when the Oil Kings tried to get back in the game.
The Oil Kings earned three power plays in the first half of the final period and threw 15 shots at him over the 20 Sentes. He made a great pad save in close off of Curtis Lazar and then dove across the crease to pull Martin Gernat’s shot off of the line with his glove.
Paulic robbed Michael St. Croix with four minutes left with a pad save.
“I was nervous, but the whole day I was telling myself to stay focused and keep my head in the game,” said Paulic. “The Warriors made it easy for me. They blocked shots. They didn’t let any cross-ice passes through and cleared all of my rebounds. I owe it all to them.”
It was an incredibly gutsy decision by Warriors head coach Mike Stothers to go with the relatively untested Paulic in a must-win game in the Eastern Conference finals. The decision worked out brilliantly and Stothers said he wasn’t at all surprised by how well his goalie played.
“Not in the least. That was why the decision was made,” said Stothers. “He’s a quality goaltender. He proved it when he was here in training camp. He had a tremendous year this year. He’s been with us for five weeks and gets the benefit of watching us every day.
“He responded very well. The team played very well in front of him and the players that didn’t play tonight were very supportive of all of the decisions that were made.”
Paulic was called up after his midget AAA season with the Norman Northstars ended. He made 24 saves in a 7-1 win over Prince Albert in his WHL debut on March 17. He wasn’t sure he was even going to get that game, but was told the morning before the Warriors final regular season game that he was playing.
“The P.A. game was pretty similar to this. I didn’t know until the morning skate. I did exactly when I did before the P.A. game and made sure I was ready,” said Paulic who said his teammates rallied around him.
“I’ve only played one game before this, so they tried to support me and make me feel confident and like I belong. It was awesome.”