Ian Clark’s newest project goaltender Nikita Tolopilo makes his mark in Canucks win over Flames
2 months ago
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It’s hard to imagine a single save being the turning point in a hockey game where a team won by six goals.
But that’s exactly what happened last night, when midway through a 7-1 Canucks rout of the Calgary Flames, Nikita Tolopilo shut down the Flames’ Mikael Diotte on a perfectly timed, cross-crease one-timer.
As the Canucks prospects put on a clinic against the Flames in their opening game of the Young Stars tournament, the Belarusian netminder stood tall when he was called upon. And I’m not just talking about his 6-foot-6 frame, either.
Tolopilo was exactly as good as he could be in a game where he faced just 13 Flames shots. Low-shot games are notoriously hard for goalies to keep alert in, and it’d be understandable if Tolopilo had a few wobbles after a first period where he faced exactly two shots.
But even after letting in a goal early in the second period, Tolopilo never lost his alertness. That was never made clearer than during the middle frame, when Tolopilo made that crucial doorstep save with the Canucks only up 2-1. Marc Gatcomb opened the floodgates immediately after.
Later in the second, Tolopilo made a well-timed look into the slot area and was able to cut down the angle on a Rory Kerins’ shot in close.
At 23 years old, Tolopilo is technically one of the elder statesmen of the prospects tournament, and he was able to bring a level of calmness to the Canucks backend as they pressed for scoring chances. Head coach Jeremy Colliton didn’t get to see as much of Tolopilo’s mechanics as he will in future outings, but his new goalie’s inherent ability to settle the game down was a major takeaway.
“He’s a big body, and he makes you feel comfortable in net because he covers that much,” Colliton said. “He made a couple big saves for us.”
And he looked good doing it too, debuting in a pair of CCM pads that form an ‘A’ for Abbotsford when put together.
Tolopilo never lost focus, even as the score climbed higher and higher. When the Canucks inevitably started easing their offensive pressure and let the clock wind down, the Flames couldn’t muster a chance that caused him much of a headache.
If that calm and collected style translates over to the stiffer competition of the AHL, the pace of play adjustment won’t be too steep for him to get accustomed to. He’s yet another goaltender identified by Canucks director of goaltending Ian Clark who fits the mould of fellow prospects Arturs Silovs, Ty Young, and Aku Koskenvuo — all of these goaltenders have what Clark likes to call “length”.
Length is a blanket term Clark likes to use to describe inherent qualities that some goaltenders possess. Athleticism, flexibility, the ability to keep their pads flush to the ice while in the butterfly position, overall competitiveness, and more. Tolopilo led the Allsvenskan — Sweden’s second-tier pro league — in save percentage last year and signed with the Canucks as a free agent shortly after. Clark and the Canucks have high hopes for him in Abbotsford, and it wasn’t hard to see why with some of the saves and movements he made last night.
So while it might be too early to label him as Ian Clark’s new star pupil or the future of the Canucks’ crease, Nikita Tolopilo is at least starting that path on the right foot.
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