BATTLEFORDS — Good genes and talent often play a role in athletic success, but do not discount hard work.
It has been a major factor in how Josh Kotai has been able to succeed in his first Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League season. The 19-year-old goaltender has played a big role during a season in which the Battlefords North Stars have posted an impressive 40-3-2-1 record, as of Feb. 14. The team led the league standings by 20 points.
The 6-foot-2, 175-pound Kotai paced the SJHL with 27 wins. He led the league in goals against average (2.31) and save percentage (.937). This week he committed to play NCAA Division I hockey for Augustana University in Sioux Falls, S.D. Next fall will be the team’s inaugural season at that level.
“Josh is such a hard worker on and off the ice,” North Stars head coach Brayden Klimosko said. “I feel like his success is only going to grow as he matures and plays at the next level.”
When asked what has allowed him to be successful, Kotai echoed his coach’s comment about his work ethic and also emphasized the impact his teammates have had.
“I think what's allowed me to be successful so far is the hard work and compete during practices, that I've been able to translate into games,” Kotai said. “Also, the work I've put in off the ice and in the gym. It also helps to have a great team playing in front of me and it gives me confidence knowing they'll be there to help me out.”
The Abbotsford, B.C. product’s hockey journey started when he first played hockey at about the age of 10.
“It was right around that time that I decided I wanted to play goal,” Koati said. “My dad is a goalie, so it was easy to fall into his footsteps.”
In 2019-2020, Kotai played U18 AAA for the Vancouver North East Chiefs. The next hockey campaign was all but wiped out by the COVID-10 pandemic. Kotai saw action in three games for the Junior B Aldergrove Kodiaks of the Pacific International Junior Hockey League.
Last season, in 2021-2022, Kotai took his game south and east. He played for the Vermont Lumberjacks. They are located in Burlington and have teams in the Eastern Hockey League and the Eastern Hockey League Premier division. “The time had in Vermont was a good experience to be able to mature and grow as a person and a goalie,” he said. “It was great to be able to play games again - after what happened in the two years before- and just really grow and develop at the junior A level.”
Kotai said he came to play for Battlefords through recommendations from a couple of B.C. coaches.
“And I knew they were going to be a great team and be able to compete for a championship with the top guys now being in their final or second to final year,” he said. “And I had a great talk with Brayden and everything kind of fell into place from there.”
It certainly has. When asked what he has enjoyed most about playing for the North Stars, Kotai said he could not pick just one particular item.
“Starting from our coaches, they've been amazing at helping each individual player; really connecting with me and doing anything possible to help me out,” he said. “Next are my teammates, they've been really welcoming towards me since day one and have had so much belief in me, which has helped me to play with lots of confidence. Lastly the fans have been amazing and the support we've had throughout this season has been incredible. They make each home game energetic and it’s really fun to play in front of them.”