Watching Josh Thorimbert stonewall SJHL shooters with the confidence and poise of a seasoned veteran, it seems absurd to think that the 17-year-old was involved in a ferocious battle for the Kindersley Klippers’ backup role less than two months ago.
Much has changed for Thorimbert since Klippers training camp in early September, when a concussion suffered during a tryout with the Kamloops Blazers forced him to play catch-up and threatened his shot at making the team.
Shortly after the season began, starter Riley Ross was sent home for driving under the influence and replaced with Joshua Baker.
Thorimbert saw the small window of opportunity and yanked it wide open with stellar play and quiet confidence, picking up four wins before his 17th birthday.
Last week, the Saskatoon native was rewarded with the SJHL’s rookie of the month honour for October after posting a 7-2 record with a 2.31 goals-against average and .933 save percentage.
He has since upped his record to 9-2, tops in the league.
“This is awesome. I never expected this, ever, to be a 17-year-old and have things go my way and play lots of games,” said the laid-back netminder. “I’m very happy with (the start).”
Despite being near the top of the SJHL in every statistical category, Thorimbert insists he doesn’t see himself as the Klippers’ clear-cut starter.
“I’m not sure about that right now. I’m still thinking of it as a battle, with both of us working hard,” he said. “The way (head coach) Larry (Wintoneak) does it, if you win, you’re in. Right now, the bounces might be going my way, so I’m winning.
“We’re both trying to battle for that number one job. It’s still up for grabs.”
Mike Zambon coached Thorimbert with the Saskatoon Blazers the past two years. He isn’t surprised that the midget-aged goalie is turning heads in the SJHL.
“I knew Josh was ready to move on last year. He was beyond the midget level coming into this season,” said Zambon, who is now with the Saskatoon Westleys of the Prairie Junior Hockey League. “His maturity level is beyond his years of age.”
Zambon believes much of Thorimbert’s success comes from his willingness to work hard and pay his dues, which was demonstrated during his first year with Saskatoon as a back-up to Darcy Kuemper.
“He has tremendous work ethic,” the coach said. “He was a good learner of the game. In his second year, he showed that as a starter.”
Another key for Thorimbert is his relaxed mental make-up. Not many things get to him.
In fact, he cites Flin Flon as his favourite place to play in because “I’ve never had that before, with fans heckling me. I thought that was pretty cool.”
The Klippers can probably thank fate for Thorimbert being in their crease at all. The third-round selection by Kamloops in the 2007 WHL bantam draft may well have cracked their roster if not for his injury.
The demotion was devastating at first, but the six-foot netminder is making the most of it.
“When I went in the room and was told they were going to send me home, I was pretty crushed,” he recalled. “It was one of the hardest times in my life. I’d never been through any kind of tough times, and that was one of the toughest.
“Working hard and trying to make it to that level again and having that as my goal has helped me out quite a bit.”
It may happen sooner rather than later if Thorimbert keeps up this level of play, which could leave the Klippers in a bind.
The Blazers called last week to check in, though there has been no mention of a call-up.
Zambon feels Thorimbert will go far in the sport.
“I think he’s got the right attitude and the right work ethic. He’s got the desire and the passion to get better,” he said. “I think he’s got a great future in the game of hockey.”
Thorimbert’s highlights as a Klipper, so far, include the team’s 2-1 shootout win over first-place Weyburn on Oct. 13 and his first SJHL victory, which came against the Notre Dame Hounds on Sept. 26.
“The whole year’s been a highlight so far,” he said. “It’s kind of like a dream, and I’m living it.”
Best road rink: Flin Flon. “Just the atmosphere. I’ve never had that before, with fans heckling me. I thought that was pretty cool.
Everyone was loud in there and it’s a really nice rink.” Humboldt: “It just seems like a very nice rink, good ice, big crowds, good seating.”
Highlights: Shootout win over Weyburn. "That was a huge win for us, beating the #1 team in the league and seventh in Canada."
First SJHL win: "That was big. That was an exciting time for me, to get that win."
Biggest pranksters: Braeden Adamyk and Johnny Calkins. "But the pranks have been at a minimum this year, I’m kind of surprised. It might pick up as it goes along. There’s been a few cups under the helmets. Someone tried to get me with the sock tape on the blade. I caught him though."
Road roommate: Joshua Baker. "I've gotten to know him pretty good."