Two full days after celebrating a Western Hockey League championship with the Kootenay Ice, Nathan Lieuwen was still pinching himself.
It was a fitting response to what has been a dream postseason for the Abbotsford-born goalie. Lieuwen was named playoff MVP on Friday after backstopping the Cranbrook squad to a five-game series win over the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL final.
“It’s still so surreal – it hasn’t sunk in,” Lieuwen told The News on Sunday via cellphone.
“(The MVP award) could have gone to anybody on the team – so many guys are playing well. It’s flattering, but anybody on the team could have won that.”
Make no mistake, the ever-humble Lieuwen was the backbone of the Ice’s run to the title. He led all WHL goalies in goals-against average (2.24) and shutouts (3) in the playoffs, while compiling a gaudy 16-3 record.
Most impressive was his 4-1 record in sudden-death overtime.
“I like playing in overtime,” he said. “It’s a pressure situation, and nothing else really matters at that point. You can’t watch the clock, you can’t count down the time, you’ve just got to play. When everything’s on the line, I’ve got to play my best.”
Up next for Lieuwen and the Ice is the the Memorial Cup, which runs May 19-29 in Mississauga, Ont. The four-team tournament also features the Ontario Hockey League champion Owen Sound Attack, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champ Saint John Sea Dogs, and the host Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors.
“It’s a special thing,” Lieuwen said, reflecting on the opportunity to play for a national junior hockey title. “With the roll the team is on, we have some big hopes for going there. We’re going to play well. Every game’s a Game 7, and we’ll treat it like that.”