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Nikita Tolopilo providing early confidence for the Abbotsford Canucks in net

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Photo credit:John Morrow/Abbotsford News
Dave Hall
6 months ago
Is there a goaltending competition brewing in Abbotsford? 
Well, it might be a bit premature to make such a claim, given the early stage of the season. 
However, it’s certainly worth acknowledging the impressive performance of the Abbotsford Canucks’ newest goaltender, Nikita Tolopilo.
At 23 years of age, Tolopilo has had a shining start in his first two AHL appearances, securing victories in both games and stopping 71 out of 75 shots.
In both starts, he’s played a pivotal role in his team’s wins, compensating for lacklustre performances by the skaters in front of him.
Defensively, it hasn’t been pretty.
On Tuesday, as he got the nod for the second time in his early career, the 6-foot-6 netminder stopped 34 of 35 saves and capped off a win that can only be described as criminal.
As our own Cody Severtson alluded to in his post-game Farmies:
“The team in front of him laid a complete egg, subjecting him to his second straight start with 35 or more shots against. He was excellent, cool, calm, collected, and poised under duress. Despite the skaters in front of him failing to keep pace with Colorado’s skaters, Tolopilo never let the Eagles’ relentless pressure result in a build-up of momentum”.
As expected, he was named the game’s first star.
This marked back-to-back games in which he faced over 35 shots (45 in his previous game). Despite the barrage of action, he has managed to keep extremely calm, cool, and collected between the pipes.
He did not have to make any overly flashy saves, mainly due to the fact he rarely put himself out of position.
It’s been textbook goaltending, as they say.

Who is Nikita Tolopilo?

Though he may not be a familiar name in North America, his strong start shouldn’t come as much of a shock.
During his time with Södertälje in the Allsvenskan, Tolopilo posted outstanding numbers, more specifically, last season.
Starting 45 of his team’s 55 games, he recorded a 2.10 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage. 
These statistics ranked him fifth and fourth in the league, respectively, despite playing (at least) nine more games than the goaltenders ranked above him.
Although no one has a crystal ball to predict if and how well a player will adjust to the increase in opposing skill, you can always count on goaltending guru Ian Clark to take that bet.
It’s early, but the organization could cash in on returns earlier than expected…
When the Canucks signed him, Patrik Allvin highlighted the things they liked about him, and all of those things have come as advertised so far.
“He provides a combination of tremendous size and skill and has developed well at the professional level the past two seasons in Sweden, serving as one of the more accomplished goaltenders in his league this year.”
Those were certainly promising words from a general manager, who brought in three goaltenders over the summer to shore up the depth chart.

Looking forward to the future

Okay, so what does this mean going forward? What about Arturs Silovs?
We are just two weeks in, so let’s keep things together, shall we?
Following a storybook season, just one year ago, which saw him post incredible accomplishments at both the AHL level and on the international stage, things have started off shaky for Silovs.
As of Wednesday evening, he’s off to a 2-1-1 start, but sports a nasty 4.05 goal against and a .87.2 save percentage.
It’s a ways away from what we are accustomed to after his 26-12-5 run last year, but do not get too discouraged.
Not only is there a good chance that we see him shake the rust off, and continue to show the promise that had in him in NHL conversations earlier this year, but it’s a good reminder of just how important a strong AHL tandem is to a team.
With the gruelling AHL schedule filled with back-to-back games, having a strong pair that can pick up the slack is an important side of managing wins at the AHL level.
While it may not be ideal that Silovs encounters slip-ups in his game, it’s good to provide healthy competition to pick each other up in downtimes.
In his post-game interview following Tuesday’s win, Tolopido spoke about his relationship with his goaltending partnership.
“It’s pretty good. Both of us do our job and just try to do our best. It’s pretty simple”.
He mentioned the word “simple” a few times in the scrum, and well, that probably sums up his playing style nicely.
Simple, yet effective.
Don’t count on Tolopilo seeing any NHL action in the near future, though. Baring an unfortunate turn of events – likely due to injuries – he will continue to slow cook in the AHL, as he continues to grow his game and climate himself to the North American style.
However, should Silovs catch a promotion, Abbotsford can rest easy knowing they have a ready and competent netminder to hold down the fort in his absence.
Thatcher Demko and Casey DeSmith up top, and Silovs and Tolopilo in the farm…
The depth feels much more secure than we have seen in recent years, and we should be in for an entertaining season in the AHL.

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