Goaltender Dustin Tokarski was chosen in the fifth round, 122nd over all, at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. He played three years with the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL, winning the major junior championship - the Memorial Cup - in 2008. A native of Humboldt, Saskatchewan, he helped the Canadian junior team win the World Junior Championships in 2009.
He's now in his first professional season, playing with the Norfolk Admirals of the AHL, and has seen limited action with the Tampa Bay Lightning, chalking up just over 40 minutes of playing time coming in relief in two road games in January. Norfolk is currently gearing up for a playoff run, and I had a chance to talk to him last week and ask him a few questions....
Did you start out as a goalie or did you start out at a different position?
Well, when you’re young, you play a bit of everything. So I played everything up until I was 13 years old and then I became a full-time goalie.
Who from your past – a coach, a teammate, family – would you credit with helping you get this far as a goaltender? Who helped start you on this path?
That’s tough. I’ve had so many people influence me to get where I am. But to start it all off, I’ve got to say my mom and dad, for sure. My dad was a goalie, but he never put any pressure on me ever to be a goaltender. But when the time came that I chose that, he definitely helped me with little stuff and would shoot on me and gave me pointers when I was young.
We hear a lot about forward and defense conditioning during the off season, do goalies do the same regimen or how exactly is it different?
It’s somewhat similar. I mean, you’ve got to be in overall good shape, just like players. But you definitely do different drills for a goaltender. You’d like to have strong shoulders for your arm movements, and you obviously want to have strong legs for quick movements in the crease – powerful pushes and edges. You do a lot of powerful movements as a goaltender. So you try to specify your training like that.
This summer I’ll be following a program from Tampa, and I’m sure they’ll help me make it a personal one, so I’ll just follow that.
Do you do any other sports to cross train with?
I really like to golf in the summer. I golf for fun. Training-wise, that doesn’t help too much. But basically in the summer I play hockey and practice, and I play golf, and I work out. Those are my main activities.
What’s your favorite golf course?
Oh, I don’t know. I’ve played a lot of them in Spokane, and home. I don’t really have a favorite.
Which is better – your short game or your long game?
Probably would have to say my short game.
You have a past with Norfolk’s acting head coach, Leigh Mendelson, with the Spokane Chiefs organization. Has having a familiar face helped with the transition from juniors to the pro ranks?
Yes, for sure. When I got here – just to know a familiar face, even just to talk with everyday opinions about – was pretty comforting. Even just to ask an opinion on where to look to rent and stuff like that – just a bunch of little stuff – and he was great with helping me out, so it was really nice.
Norfolk has had two major coaching disruptions this season: Darren Rumble being fired in January and Jim Johnson being promoted to Tampa Bay two weeks ago. Did that cause any upheaval in the Norfolk locker room?
Not in the locker room. We’ve got very good leaders on our team, with Ryan Craig leading the way. I mean, when Darren moved out and Jim stepped in, sometimes that’s just what you need is a change. The change obviously helped our hockey club and put us on a streak. And when Leigh stepped in for Jim, we just kept the same mental aspect of what got us to where are now. And I think we’re still doing the same things – just staying focused and worrying about the things we can control.
Speaking of upheaval, how much of the NHL trade deadline talk made its way to Norfolk? Is it an after-thought or does it affect guys as much as the guys at the NHL level?
Well, I mean, that’s another thing out of your control. You know, in the WHL there’s a trade deadline, too, and I’ve been thru that for two years now. You pay attention, of course, to the changes that happen up top in Tampa. It’s definitely interesting. But at the same time, you want to stay focused on what you’re doing.
You made your NHL debut in January on the road against Florida (in Miami) and New York (against the Rangers). What are some of the off-ice perks in the show that surprised you compared to the AHL and juniors?
Well, you’re treated amazing up there. Everything from equipment-wise to food-wise to hotels, it’s all top-notch. They make sure that the only thing you have to worry about is to play hockey on the ice. So they treat you really good.
But you use your same equipment from Norfolk?
How long does it take to break in those? Your pads?
It varies. Last year, in Spokane, I broke in a pair in a couple of days. Right now I’m trying to break in a pair and it’s been over a week. So it kind of depends every time.
From the same maker, it still depends? Or from switching from…?
I haven’t switched makers, so I’m with the same one. It just varies; it’s all personal.
You've made a name for yourself in Canada in the World Junior Championships, and yet you're now part of a franchise in a non-traditional market. Do friends back home give you grief for this?
No, no grief at all. I mean, if anything, I get praised. When I got drafted to Tampa, all my friends were saying, "Cool, you get to play hockey and wear shorts at the same time."
You're in the unique position of having recent playoff experience (with the WHL's Spokane Chiefs in the Memorial Cup) and tournament experience in the World Junior Championships. How does that come in handy at playoff time if the Ads make it into the AHL playoffs?
For sure, all that experience helps. From midget it helped me in the WHL. And from the WHL helped me at World Juniors. It all leads on. I’m excited for playoffs, and I really hope we make playoffs, and take a run at it and hopefully go on a nice streak.
I know you just turned pro so they might not have produced any but, do you have any of your own rookie hockey cards and whose cards would be a fair trade?
I don’t know what you mean by "rookie." I don’t have an NHL card yet. I don’t know, really. There are some cards out there, but I don’t know if they’re considered my "rookie" card. I’ve had some with Spokane, and I know that there are some out here, but I don’t know exactly.
With everywhere you have traveled - in juniors, in the AHL and in the NHL - what’s been your favorite place to play? Favorite city to visit?
I’m not sure. Every place I’ve played has been really good for hockey, and I’ve enjoyed it. You know, we’ve just played in cities, nothing too crazy. I mean, I’ve played in tons of different cities and they’re all different.