The Portage Terriers history, when it comes to goaltending, has seen many masked men between the pipes. From Jayden Catellier and Gavin Renwick this season, to Justin Laforest, Talor Joseph and Zac Robidoux tending the net for the Terriers run to the RBC Cup in 2015, there have been some quality goalies make their way through Portage.
Among them, a netminder named Nathan Park made a name for himself in his last season of Junior 'A' hockey with the Terriers. Park would help lead the team to a second consecutive appearance at the Western Canada Cup, which was a preliminary tournament leading up to the RBC Cup. Park and the Terriers were unable to qualify for the final, but with two RBC Cup spots on the line, played the Brooks Bandits in the second-place game, only to lose 2-1 to the bandits, who were led by NHL or NHL-affiliated players, Cale Makar and Jeff Mallott.
Nathan Park put up video-game style numbers, leading the Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL) with a 1.92 Goals Against Average (GAA) and .922% Save Percentage (SV%) with 7 shutouts. His record in the regular season was 38-6-0. His GAA number still stands as of today as the best mark in MJHL history.
Park says it was a unique situation to come into.
"We only had four returning guys from the National Championship winning team the year before, so it was a bit of a question mark going into that year with all the turnover, but it was cool to be a part of a whole new group coming together like we did, and stringing together the success we did."
Park shared that he wasn't expecting to play college hockey if it wasn't in the NCAA in the USA, and had made plans to attend the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) following his season in Portage. However, partway through the summer, he got the urge to get back on the ice, and was brought in as the third-string goalie with NAIT. Through that, he found himself in some very unique situations.
"I think I only got into two or three games that first year, but then the year after, the other two goalies moved on, and I was able to get the starting role. What's kind of cool with that opportunity that second year is, there was a bit of a falling-out between the Oilers and the University of Alberta Golden Bears, and they usually had a game in the exhibition with the (Edmonton) Oilers rookies. So, because of the falling-out, they made a bit of a split-squad all-star team between NAIT and MacEwen University, our two hockey teams, so I got to play in that. I think we were outshot, something like 51-18, and we ended up winning 2-0, so I got to play the last half of that game, which was pretty cool."
That was not the end of the road though, as the Oilers kept him in mind.
"That actually ended up leading to 12 games over two seasons that I got to be the emergency backup goalie for the Oilers." He shared one story of how it went down. "I did almost get to dress for Nashville the one game, because the night before in Calgary, Pekka Rinne got hurt, and the goalie they called up, they lost his gear on the flight. So, throughout the day, I had one phone call and a few texts with David Poile, the Predators GM at the time, and he was basically saying, 'Hey, you're on stand-by, we're going to try and put together some gear for our guy, but if we can't get anything for him, then you're going to go for us.' But they were able to scrounge together some stuff with some help from the Oilers and the Oil Kings, so I got to go back to my buffet and media seat for that game."
These days, Nathan fills his time doing goalie coaching in Edmonton with his own business, True North Goaltending. He adds that he's been doing goalie coaching since during his junior playing days, but started taking it seriously back in 2019.
"It keeps me busy." He added with a laugh, "My wife, during hockey season, likes to say that she's a single mom."