Nathan Park of the Portage Terriers is making the most of a second chance. Two years ago he was with the Selkirk Steelers and a knee injury put the brakes on his MJHL career.
Fast forward to 2015-16. His current one run with the Portage Terriers is positively lights out. He’s currently the top goaltender in the MJHL heading into November, and he has the stats to prove it.
The Edmonton native is a perfect 13-0 for the Terriers this year, with a 0.99 GAA, a .953 save percentage, and a flawless five shutouts. The modest netminder credits a strong Terriers line up for helping him to his hot start.
“It’s always nice when you have a strong team in front of you,” said Park. “Most nights my job is pretty easy, as my team does a good job of eliminating a lot of the Grade A scoring opportunities.
“I just have to play solid and make that first save – I credit my team for the start.”
Park joined the Terriers via the Fort Frances Lakers last year, where he posted an impressive 1.93 GAA and a .931 save percentage. Before that, Park was a member of the Selkirk Steelers, where he played 16 games in 2013-14, where he also had solid numbers in goal (a 1.53 GAA and a .940 save percentage).
His moves might be considered surprising given how he’s excelled, but fate dealt Park a tough hand, which led to his playing in Ontario after a solid year with the Steelers.
“My first year in Selkirk, I didn’t play my first game until November as I was recovering from knee surgery,” he said. “We had a good team that year, but unfortunately we didn’t get that long run in the playoffs that we wanted.
“So I came in the next year and hoped to be the starter, but a couple of games in I hurt my other knee, and I was out for a couple of months.”
In the meantime the Steelers had a hole in goal to fill, and so when Park was healed up and ready to return, the Steelers made the decision to release Park as they couldn’t keep three netminders in camp.
“They had two local guys and I had not played for a while,” said Park, who ended up in Fort Frances in part because they were hosting the Dudley Hewitt Cup, ensuring he would get a nice long playoff run.
Park had the benefit of playing his minor hockey in the ‘City of Champions’, and when he started his junior career with the Spruce Grove Saints, he got some top-notch guidance from goaltender coach Dustin Schwartz, who is now a goalie coach with the Edmonton Oilers.
“He helped me make the transition to junior,” he said. “When I started in junior I really couldn’t find my stride, but when I was traded to Selkirk, I was really able to implement what he showing me. I wouldn’t be here if not for (Schwartz).”
Park has been accepted into a post-secondary school back home, and so he knows after this year he’ll be able to pursue an education. That’s the back up plan. Park would like to earn a scholarship and play NCAA hockey, but given his two knee surgeries, he knows he’ll have to prove he can play at a high level despite his previous injuries.
“Because of the two knee surgeries, it’s a bit of a battle to maintain my body, and I have to stretch every day just to make sure I can handle the workload,” said Park. “I want to play NCAA hockey, but it will depend on a lot of factors, like who comes knocking, and how my body is feeling.”