IN the weeks leading up to the start of the 2012 PIJHL season this September, North Van Wolf Pack head coach Matt Samson believed he had a bit of a goaltending problem.
Last year's workhorse, Jordan Liem, was off in Saskatchewan trying out for - and eventually earning - a spot on the Jr. A Nipawin Hawks of the SJHL. That left the Jr. B Wolf Pack with a combination of untested youngsters and unproven veterans in camp. The Wolf Pack brass were so concerned that they swung a trade less than a week before the regular season started to pick up experienced PIJHL goalie Jordan Hospes to be their No. 1 with West Vancouver's Anders Ten Vaanholt, one of those untested rookies, acting as the backup.
That setup, however, didn't last long. Hospes struggled in several early games, forcing Ten Vaanholt to step in. The former Hollyburn Huskie not only stepped in, he stepped up, putting together several strong performances. By Nov. 1 Hospes had played his last game with the Wolf Pack - he was released by North Van and picked up by the Kerry Park Islanders - and Ten Vaanholt was getting busy erasing all of the team's goaltending question marks. In early November the Pack made another move that may have wiped out any last doubt, acquiring goalie Braden Krogfoss from the Abbotsford Pilots. Krogfoss, a Cloverdale native, is a former North Shore Winter Club goalie who played for the North Shore/Burnaby-based Vancouver Northwest Giants of the B.C. Major Midget League last season.
This past weekend the new tag-team combo was on full display. On Saturday night the Pack hosted the powerhouse Richmond Sockeyes, the team that eliminated North Van from the first round of the playoffs in five games last season. Krogfoss got the start and faced down a strong Sockeyes attack, holding the fort while Richmond out-shot the host team 8-1 to open the game.
Richmond finally scored midway through the second period, beating Krogfoss on a wild scramble moments after a Wolf Pack penalty expired. Immediately after the goal Krogfoss went back to work, stringing together four excellent saves in a span of 10 seconds as Richmond pressed for an insurance goal. Krogfoss kept the Pack in the game until giving up a breakaway goal in the dying minutes. Shots were 37-28 for Richmnond as the Sockeyes scored a 2-0 win.
"Braden played well, he kept us in it," said Samson after the loss. "We've got to get this guy some goal support but he definitely was one of our stars tonight."
One day later the Wolf Pack travelled to Burnaby for a big matchup against Grandview, the team directly ahead of them in the standing. This time it was Ten Vaanholt who got the start and made the saves, turning back 28 out of 29 shots as the Wolf Pack picked up an important 5-1 win.
With the season passing the midway point the two goalies now both sit in the league's top eight in goals-against-average. Ten Vaanholt sports a 7-5-1 record with a .910 save percentage while Krogfoss has only one win in four starts but he's posted a league-leading .932 save percentage. So much for a goaltending problem.
On Saturday Samson had praise for both his rookies.
"Anders is really reactionary, acrobatic, good technically as well," he said. "Every practice he just doesn't want to get scored on. He competes. He's made some of the most unbelievable saves in practice and in games I've ever seen - just acrobatic. . . . He's maybe 150 pounds soaking wet but he really competes."
Krogfoss is solid all-around, said Samson. "We knew he came with a very good resume. He's a young, dedicated kid who wants to get to the next level. We want him to help us win this year and see him move on next year.
Samson wasn't about to offer a detailed breakdown of their styles other than that he, for the most part, likes what he's seeing.
"I'm not really a goalie guy - as long as they can stop the puck I'm happy," he said with a laugh. "They're both really good goaltenders."
Krogfoss, who was looking at a season as a backup in Abbotsford before getting traded to the Wolf Pack, is relishing the new opportunity.
"I love it," he said. "Obviously when you get a chance to play it really helps your confidence and helps your play a lot. Anders is a good little goalie too so he's really pushing me for the starts as well."
The two goalies have played against each other for years and have been friends since attending a goalie camp together a few years ago. Krogfoss said their tandem act is working so far.
"It's a good 1-2 punch," he said, adding that they both have similar temperaments that are far from the old stereotype of the wacky goaltender. "We're both pretty quiet kids. We don't really say much to the team but when we're with each other we're chatting away. . . . We just need to keep the puck out of the net. There's not much else we can do."
So there's no goaltending problem now for the Wolf Pack but there is a bit of a winning problem - through 23 games they're last in the conference, two points behind Grandview for the conference's final playoff spot. Samson hopes they'll rise up now and expects that strong goalie play will help them do it.
"We're definitely comfortable in our goaltender situation right now," he said. "We brought Braden in to sort of push Anders. Basically whoever is playing better is going to get the majority of the starts. It's not going to be a thing like Jordan last year where I think he had 36 or 37 starts. It's going to be a bit of a tandem. Sometimes you ride the hot guy but they're both going to get starts and they're both going to help us win games."
The Wolf Pack will be back in action Saturday night when they host the Delta Ice Hawks at 7 p.m. at Harry Jerome recreation centre.