Sports

Lieuwen backstops sizzling Ice to WHL final

Abbotsford-born goalie Nathan Lieuwen has been red-hot during the WHL playoffs. - Kootenay Ice photo
Abbotsford-born goalie Nathan Lieuwen has been red-hot during the WHL playoffs.
— image credit: Kootenay Ice photo

When a team goes on an unexpected playoff run, much of the chatter tends to centre on how they knew they could do it, and how no one ever gave them any respect.

Reflecting on the Kootenay Ice's eyebrow-raising sprint to the Western Hockey League final, Nathan Lieuwen puts forth no such pretensions.

"It may be a bit of a surprise to us as well, yeah," the Abbotsford-born goalie admitted during a phone interview Thursday.

"We knew we were capable of this, but it definitely wasn't expected. Of course, we came in thinking we're going to win every game, but for us to be playing this well, it's awesome.

"We're having a lot of fun."

Indeed, the most stunning aspect of the Ice's playoff run is the level of dominance with which they've achieved it. The Cranbrook squad entered the post-season as the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, and after dispatching the No. 5 Moose Jaw Warriors in six games in the first round, they swept aside both the top-seeded Saskatoon Blades and the No. 3 Medicine Hat Tigers.

Add it all up, and the Ice have won 11 straight playoff games – one shy of the WHL record.

Lieuwen, 19, has been a huge catalyst, and his post-season numbers are off the charts. He leads WHL goalies goals against average (1.96), shutouts (3) and wins (12), and is fourth in save percentage (.929).

He was particularly spectacular in blunting the Blades in the second round. Saskatoon was tied for tops in WHL goal-scoring during the regular season, but after limiting them to five goals in four games, Lieuwen was named the Canadian Hockey League's goalie of the week.

"The playoffs are the time where your play is so crucial," Lieuwen noted. "I'm just trying to stay focused on what I have to do – just go out there and do my thing. So far, it's been working for me.

"I'm just trying to take my team to a championship."

The Ice will face off with either the Portland Winterhawks or the Spokane Chiefs for the WHL title. Portland has a 2-1 series lead over Spokane in the Western Conference final.

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