Saturday, February 7, 2015

Dustin Tokarski: 5 Autographed Cards (Part 1)

Man, this is by far the best return so far this year - and perhaps even for my 2013-14 mailings:

That's right, 319 days in the making, seeing as I sent Dustin Tokarski these 5 card (two regular-issue and 3 customs) on March 24th, 2014 (care of the Hamilton Bulldogs, his team at the time) along with a fan letter, and got them all back, signed in blue sharpie with his uniform number tagged at the end, on February 6th, 2015.

If there was ever a doubt that Tokarski was going to succeed at the NHL level, the knock would always be his size, which at 5'11'' and 185 pounds seems more fitted for the 1990s than the current-day monsters that man the cages, but really, how many goalies are named top goalie at the World Juniors (winning gold with Team Canada), and top goalie and MVP at the Memorial Cup?

And how many couple that with a league-leading 1.97 GAA in 54 games the WHL? How about following that with a Calder Cup win that sees the goalie not just go 12-2 in 14 games (which could be a reflection of the team's play more than anything) but also a 1.46 GAA and .944 save percentage?

Those are looking a lot like ''elite'' numbers, right there. And he did nothing to dismiss his case last season, either, whenever the Montréal Canadiens required his services, posting a 2-0 record with a 1.84 GAA and .946 save percentage in three regular season games, with a spectacular four-start stint in the playoffs in a heartbreaking loss to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Finals where he was everything he could have been: his first game was a home-ice loss in which he was getting warmed up and improved every minute, then in Game 3 he stopped 35 of 37 shots for a tight win, then won a 7-4 affair showing he can battle all types of adversity and luck and still come out a winner, finishing with the final game, where he stopped 31 of 32 Rangers shots but still came up short of mounting a historic comeback for the ages. Which will just have to wait until next time.

Even this year, his win-lose record may only stand at 4-2-1, but his .924 save percentage speaks pretty loudly, and in just about every game, he was the better goalie, including an impressive 2-1 shootout win against the Florida Panthers.

He's 25, and in my opinion, perhaps a couple of seasons away from being the type of guy opponents' fans will be talking about on a regular basis, but he's taking it one step at a time, learning, improving, working hard. He will be a starter in the NHL, and a good one at that. The one thing that may stop him from doing so in Montréal is current incumbent Carey Price's status and the fact that hometown youngster Zachary Fucale is in the pipeline, perhaps three years away from backup status and five from being a full-time starter himself. The thing about the future is it's hard to predict, though, so we'll just have to wait and see.

In the meantime, I tried sending him cards that represented the various steps of his career, first from his WHL days with the Spokane Chiefs, from my own custom Hell's Kitchen 2013-14 Series 2 set (this is variant C of card #4 in the series):

Doesn't he look awesome in the bleu-blanc-rouge? He might be small by today's standards, but he suits the suit and wears it well.

While we're talking about the Habs, here are variants A and B from the same set, showing him with the AHL's Bulldogs:

I really like his stance here, the glove isn't as high as a lot of his contemporaries, though on the card on the left, I'd like to see it extended outwards (sideways, not front-wise) a bit more; the reason why, as a former goalie, I prefer it held sticking out to the side and just slightly going up rather than full-vertical like most goalies do nowadays is because it's a quicker and more natural movement to go up than down - as goalies, we've been making those spectacular (''hot dog'') saves our entire lives, and our muscle memory points that way anyway, and in modern life, unless our hands are pushing on something (a table, a keyboard, armrests), we rarely bring and keep our arms down without setting them on something solid, with some weight. The shots at most levels are also more likely to be lower than high (though at elite levels like the NHL or World Championships, 25% of the players can put the puck anywhere they want more than half the time, which is where speed and muscle memory come into play).

        (continued in the following post)


  1. Wow nice Tokarski return - haven't seen much, if anything, come back from him. Bravo.

  2. Thanks. I try to write only players I really like and respect, and am honest in my letters, tell players where they can find the blog, so that they can see for themselves what I'm about.

    I really like Tokarski - went to see his first playoff game last year. He seems like a genuinely good guy, too.