The confidence of Walleye goaltender Jake Paterson continues to build as the young netminder has taken on the lion’s share of work between the pipes this season.
At 22, Paterson has nearly a season-and-a-half of pro hockey under his belt. The 6-foot-1, 183-pound goalie has started nine straight games for a Walleye team that is off to the best start in Toledo ECHL history.
“Playing every night is a good feeling,” Paterson said. “Any goalie wants to get in a rhythm and get on a roll. I just want to go out there and do all I can to help the team win.”
Paterson, a highly-regarded Detroit Red Wings prospect, has taken over as Toledo’s No. 1 goaltender. Paterson (16-5-1) is ranked second in the ECHL in wins and in shutouts with three this season.
Paterson is sixth among all netminders in goals-against average (2.45).
The native of Mississauga, Ontario, was selected in the third round of the NHL draft by Detroit in 2012. He started his pro career in Toledo last season and went 18-9-2 with two shutouts and a 2.21 goals-against average.
“My first year as a pro, it maybe took me some time to transition,” Paterson said. “By the end of last year, I was feeling more comfortable. Now in my second year, I have even more confidence. I've had a good start, and the last two months I’ve felt really confident.”
Up until this point as a pro, Paterson has been in a regular rotation in a Walleye goaltending tandem. Last season, he split time nearly equally with Jeff Lerg.
This season, he has split time with another seasoned netminder, Cal Heeter, who is currently called up to Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League.
Paterson is one shutout shy of tying the franchise record for shutouts in a season of four, set by Lerg in 2014-15.
Walleye coach Dan Watson called Paterson “a workhorse,” who has shouldered the load earlier in his career while playing in the Ontario Hockey League.
“I trust Jake,” Watson said. “We communicate all the time and, the minute he says he can’t go, [backup goalie Steve] Racine will get that start.”
Before turning pro at the tail end of the 2014-15 season, Paterson appeared in 192 career OHL games with Saginaw and Kitchener. He had a 96-75-15 record with seven shutouts and a 3.29 goals-against average. Paterson appeared in a career-high 50 games in 2012-13, and also played in 42 and 45 games in two other seasons.
“It’s nice to have a coach that trusts you and understands how you feel,” Paterson said. “I would not play if I felt tired — I want this team to win. But it’s hard to say no to a start.”
This season, Paterson has logged the fourth-most minutes among ECHL netminders in 22 games.
“As a goalie, it’s nice to get that starting job and get that consistency of playing every game,” he said. “It's been awesome. The team is playing well. It’s been exciting.”
Paterson was named ECHL goaltender of the week from Dec. 27-31. He had a 3-1-0 record with a 1.76 goals-against average and a save percentage of .940.
The Walleye (26-6-1) lead the ECHL with 53 points and have a .803 winning percentage. The team is 11-2-1 at home and 15-4-0 on the road. Toledo leads the Central Division by eight points.
“Whenever we head out for a game, we think we have a good chance to win,” Paterson said.
Toledo plays at Wheeling tonight before hosting the Nailers on Friday. Wheeling handed Toledo its worst loss of the season, 6-0 last Friday. But the Walleye responded with two straight wins at home.
“After an ugly loss, we wanted to get right back on track and get back to how we play,” Paterson said. “Guys did not hit the panic button too hard. We just went back to what had made us good.”
After all six losses this season, the team has responded with a win and has yet to lose consecutive games.
“We just turn the page quickly,” Paterson said. “That starts with Watty. We regroup. It’s a confidence thing. We don’t get too high or too low.”
Paterson attributed the best start in franchise history to camaraderie and an explosive offense.
“It’s the best group of guys I’ve played with,” Paterson said. “We’re all close-knit and get along really well. We have a lot skill. From our o-zone, to the neutral zone, to the d-zone. It’s been fun.”
But the team is facing a serious bout of roster instability.
Rookie forward Tylor Spink, who leads the Walleye with 36 points in 33 games (12 G, 24 A), was loaned to Albany of the AHL on Tuesday. Spink is second among ECHL rookies in scoring. Also on Tuesday, forward A.J. Jenks, who took a puck to the cheek in Saturday’s game, was placed on injured reserve. Jenks has 33 points in 32 games (13 G, 20 A).
The team also is playing without several other key players who were called up to the AHL: Heeter, Kyle Bonis, Jacob MacDonald, Jared Nightingale, and Matt Caito. Steady defenseman Scott Czarnowczan was lost for the season because of a knee injury.
“We have a good mindset of the next-man-up mentality,” Paterson said.
“The same thing happened to us with injuries and call-ups around the same time last season. Whoever is in the lineup steps up.”
Toledo plays four games over the next five days.
“We’ve had a good first half, and we’re looking to keep that rolling,” Paterson said. “There’s a lot of hockey coming up and the guys are excited to play a lot.”
On The Hook: Jake Paterson
■ Position: Goaltender
■ Ht./Wt.: 6-1, 183
■ Hometown: Mississauga, Ont.
■ Age: 22
■ Jersey No.: 35
■ Why do you wear that jersey number? I wore 57 the whole way up through minor hockey because there was a really good goalie on an OHL team I watched growing up that wore that number. But they gave me this number when I got here.
■ What was your first car? Golden Nissan Murano
■ Person you text the most: Guys on the team when we're figuring out what to do. Probably (Zach) Nastasiuk and the Spink brothers the most.
■ Golf foursome: Ricky Fowler, Carey Price, Drake (He's from Toronto).
■ Favorite holiday: Christmas
■ Did you make any resolutions this year? Stop the puck more.
■ Favorite store: Banana Republic
■ Favorite animal: Polar bears
■ Favorite pizza topping: Pepperoni
■ What is your pet peeve? Doing the dishes.
■ What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Something in business, financial.
■ What profession would you not like to do? Any desk job, sitting behind a desk.
■ Favorite hockey website: Facebook
■ Do you have a Twitter account? No
■ Favorite ECHL arena (other than Toledo): Fort Wayne. They always have a good crowd and a good atmosphere.
■ Favorite Walleye uniform: The Yellows are really nice.
■ Favorite NHL uniform: Red Wings
■ Best NHL rivalry: Blackhawks and Blues
■ If you could have a superpower what would it be? Fly
■ If you could go back and attend any historic sporting event what would it be? 1972 Canada-Russian Summit Series
■ Something nobody knows about you: I’m not a bad ping-pong player.
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