Tomas Jurco wants to make something clear when he’s regularly asked about his unbelievable stick tricks: “I am not a clown.”
On Monday night though, underneath the big top of the Hershey Centre, the Saint John Sea Dogs forward put on a display that would have relegated Barnum & Bailey to opening-act status with Jurco as the main event.
“He’s unbelievable,” said teammate Stanislav Galiev smiling and shaking his head in disbelief.
It was Jurco who set up Galiev’s power-play goal in the second period and then scored the game-tying goal to help the QMJHL-champion Saint John Sea Dogs rally for a 3-2 thrilling overtime victory over the Owen Sound Attack at the MasterCard Memorial Cup. It was the first overtime decision in the first four games of the round-robin tournament.
Up until Galiev’s goal, Attack netminder Jordan Binnington had kept the Sea Dogs at bay to protect a 2-0 lead for the Ontario Hockey League champions. But Jurco corralled a loose puck behind the Owen Sound net and had carried it into the corner. He then quickly pivoted to evade a defender and threw a pass to Galiev who was waiting in the crease.
“I skated right to the crease and said, ‘Tommy I’m here!’ said the Russian sniper. “I don’t think he saw me but he heard me and he gave me a great pass right on my stick so I had to shoot high glove and that’s what I did.”
“I was happy it worked,” added Jurco.
According to Saint John head coach Gerard Gallant, that goal was crucial in terms of not only getting to Binnington, but also helping the Sea Dogs find their offensive mojo.
"We're a pretty gifted offensive team," said Gallant. "That first goal was an unbelievable play by Jurco to Galiev, and that got the ball rolling. We can score some goals and we know we're never out of a hockey game."
Jurco, 18, unveiled his next big performance with 3:27 left in regulation time and Owen Sound desperately trying stave off the Sea Dogs’ relentless attack. The rangy winger, ranked 20th in North America by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service for next month’s entry draft in Minneapolis, jumped on a puck richocheting off the end boards and used his ultra-quick hands to roof it over Binnington to send the game into overtime. Jonathan Huberdeau, who’s expected to be a top-10 pick in the draft, buried teammate Michael Kirkpatrick’s pass high over Binnington’s blocker with just over two minutes remaining in the first overtime frame.
"I just shot the puck and I thought I'd missed it, but it hit the post and went in," said Huberdeau. "I was alone in the slot. (Binnington) played pretty good and we had to work hard to score."
The victory by the Sea Dogs (2-0) gave them a bye into the Memorial Cup final, though they must first finish out the round robin on Tuesday night against the Western Hockey League-champion Kootenay Ice (0-2), meaning there will be little rest for the weary Maritime team.
“Both teams were tired, so it was just about who was going to score,” said Jurco of the overtime. “We have a game (Tuesday) so we’re just going to eat and sleep as much as we can.”
Another game means another opportunity for Jurco to showcase his speed and deft puck skills. He is most widely known in hockey circles thanks to his YouTube videos which have garnered hundreds of thousands of views from hockey fans all over the world.
His first video – which has been viewed close to 185,000 times -- was recorded by a friend on a playground in his native Slovakia and posted by a third party when Jurco was only 14 years old. In that video he’s performing tricks with a puck and stick at such a high level that it makes one question the laws of physics.
Even his teammates are fans of his videos, though they also enjoy teasing him about his Internet popularity.
“Some of the guys in the locker room call him ‘YouTube Sensation’,” said Galiev. “He has unbelievable hands and skills, he practises a lot those moves.”
But as much as Jurco enjoys and appreciates the fact that people have uploaded his work for all to see, he seems to fear being labeled as a one-trick pony.
“Everyone only talks about my hands and tricks and stuff,” said Jurco. “But I’m trying to be a complete hockey player – offensively and defensively – that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Any time he plays in an event in the spotlight – like the CHL Top Prospects Game or when he represented Slovakia at the world junior tournament – the media attention wants to focus on his circus act.
“It’s good,” said Jurco of the spotlight his YouTube prowess has brought him. “But sometimes it’s just getting a little bit annoying.”
Galiev, a third-round pick of the Washington Capitals last summer, believes that Jurco’s game is far more multi-dimensional that most people give him credit for, thanks to the videos. The two imports on the Sea Dogs are close, often hanging out together and even rooming with each other on road trips.
“He is like my brother,” said Galiev. “I talk Russian and he talks Slovakian so we understand each other. It’s a lot of fun with him.”
“It’s great because we help each other. We go to the movies together or we go to the mall together, so I’m very happy to have him on my team.”
So how does Galiev view his best friend “Tommy,” the now-reluctant YouTube sensation with the jaw dropping skills?
“Sometimes he’s a clown,” said Galiev with a laugh. “But usually he’s a serious and nice guy.”