Born eight years apart in towns separated by just over 100 kilometers, their ages and hometowns are just about the only things Saskatchewan natives Connor Ingram and Dustin Tokarski don’t have in common.
Ingram is minding the Canadian net in search of a gold medal at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship, something Tokarski achieved in 2009 when he backstopped Canada to a home-ice gold in Ottawa.
Holiday hockey is just the tip of the iceberg; both made their international debuts at the World Juniors, but have a look at their career paths at the same age, and there are a few other uncanny similarities.
In 2014, Ingram, a native of small-town Imperial, Sask., made 60 saves in a triple-overtime gold medal game at the TELUS Cup, leading the Prince Albert Mintos to Canada’s National Midget Championship in the longest game in tournament history.
Tokarski? The Watson, Sask., native stopped 61 shots to help the Mintos win their first TELUS Cup title in 2006, also in three overtimes, in what was then the longest game ever at the tournament.
Both netminders felt they had something to prove during their Midget years after having been ignored in the WHL Bantam Draft. Winning a national title certainly helped with that.
“We were actually both cut by the same coach in our second year of Bantam, too,” Ingram adds.
They both eventually found their way to the WHL as listed players – Ingram with the Kamloops Blazers, and Tokarski with the Spokane Chiefs, helping the team win the Memorial Cup in 2008 – and both did enough to hear their names called at the NHL Entry Draft.
It’s not much of a surprise that both were selected by the same team – the Tampa Bay Lightning. Ingram was the 88th pick by the Lightning in the 2016 draft, 34 spots ahead of where Tokarski went in 2008.
“When Tampa Bay called, [our similarities] became even weirder,” Ingram says. “But at the same time it’s exciting. He’s someone who I’ve seen in and around the rink in the summer. He’s always working hard, so he’s somebody that I look up to for sure.”
“It’s pretty cool,” adds Tokarski, who tends goal for the San Diego Gulls, the AHL affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks. “It’s great because I don’t know him personally, but I have heard great things about him from the people in Prince Albert who’ve played him back home. And I haven’t only heard good things about his abilities in the net, but also his demeanor as a person. That goes a long way.”
And going a long way is definitely the main objective for Ingram; whether it’s long-term and following Tokarski into the National Hockey League (he has played 33 games with Tampa Bay, Montreal and Anaheim), or on a short-term basis and ending the World Juniors with a gold medal around his neck.
“My [World Juniors] experience has been awesome so far and hopefully it goes as well as Tokarski’s since he brought home the gold,” Ingram says. “But it’s been exciting for sure, especially considering we are two guys that most people sort of had written off when we were younger.
“No one really expected anything out of us and now knowing he’s made a career out of it, if I can live up to what he’s been doing, then I’d be happy.”
While Ingram admits standing atop the World Juniors podium is part of his dream, he laughs at the idea that it would add to the long list of anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-the-same items he shares with Tokarski.
As if they didn’t have enough of those already, Ingram is just a few Team Canada wins away from accomplishing something only Tokarski and a select few others have been able to do – win gold on home ice.
“It’s an honour to play for your country,” Tokarski says. “It was in Ottawa for me, and it was a blast of a tournament. To win a gold medal in front of 20,000 fans in the arena, and a million more watching from home, is just something I’ll never forget.”