It was the final chapter in what may have been the biggest success story in the history of the Sherwood Park Crusaders.
The meteoric rise of goaltender Matt Tomkins as a member of the Crusaders came to an official conclusion last Friday when the Park was eliminated from the Alberta Junior Hockey League playoffs in a second-round series against the Spruce Grove Saints.
He sure packed in a lot during his last two years with the team, however, as he went from backup to Blackhawk.
Tomkins started the 2011-12 season as the backup goalie for his hometown Crusaders, but quickly supplanted Pat Terriss as the starting goalie and put together a tremendous season which saw him take part in the CJHL prospects game in November and become a finalist for the AJHL goalie of the year, as well as earning a college scholarship with the Ohio State Buckeyes for the 2013-14 season.
He also got invited to Hockey Canada’s seventh-annual Program of Excellence goaltending camp as one of the top prospects in the nation and was listed as the 10th best goalie in North America in the Central Scouting rankings going into the draft. That ended up leading to being selected by the Chicago Blackhawks in the seventh round of the NHL Entry Draft.
Crusaders head coach and GM Tim Fragle said what Tomkins was able to accomplish last year in such a short span of time was almost legendary.
“We had him pegged last year as our backup and our older goalie struggled and we decided to make a move and give Tommy the reins,” he said. “From there he ends up getting a scholarship to Ohio State and getting drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks. All in the span of three or four months. It just took off for him. He’s only 18 and people in this league say that you have to be 19 or 20 to win as a goalie.”
Tomkins was thankful to be given the chance to shoulder so much responsibility as a young goalie in the league.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity that I had last year,” he said. “Getting recruited by the Crusaders was something I had been shooting for in minor hockey and that I really wanted to accomplish. For Tim (Fragle) to have the confidence in me and give me that starting role, that really jump-started my career. It was basically the sole reason that I had the year that I did and was able to secure a scholarship and get drafted.”
Tomkins had another strong campaign for the Crusaders this season, finishing with 22 wins to go along with a 2.56 GAA and a .924 save percentage.
However, his tenure with the team ended last Friday, a bit earlier than Tomkins and the rest of his Cru mates had hoped, with the 4-0 loss in Game 6 to the Saints .
“It was going to end sooner or later, but it’s tough because we wanted to make a real run this year,” he said.
“I have played my entire minor hockey here in Sherwood Park. Growing up in Sherwood Park where I have lived my whole life, it was always a dream of mine to play for the Crusaders. It’s tough thinking this was my last game, but at the same time I have to cherish it and look forward to moving on to the next level and the opportunities that I have for my career. I’m excited to go to college and move on to the next level.”
Fragle is confident that Tomkins has the maturity to make an impact at the college level.
“He’s just a real student of the game,” he said. “He wants to get better. He’s just an excellent young man with great manners. He looks you in the eye and gives a good, firm handshake. He’s helped to shape our program over the last couple years and we will really miss having him around.”
Tomkins won’t be nearly as busy this off-season as the last, but will still be working hard to make the jump to Ohio State.
“I’m going to spend as much time with the guys here as possible before I move on, but I am looking forward to next year and getting down south and making that next step,” he said.
“From here until then, it is just a matter of getting ready and prepared so that jump up is as small as I can make it.”
Tomkins was able to attend the Chicago Blackhawks summer prospects camp last year, but missed out on the opportunity to attend a full rookie training camp due to the NHL lockout.
“Hopefully that is something I will get to experience next year,” he said. “I’ll be at the prospects camp again this year for sure, which just gives me something else to look forward to.”