2024 centennial cup julian molinaro

Molinaro gets his moment

After getting a taste of the Centennial Cup last season, albeit from the sidelines, Julian Molinaro has backstopped the Calgary Canucks to the National Junior A Championship

Jason La Rose
May 17, 2024

One year ago, Julian Molinaro watched every second of the Centennial Cup from the bench.

In fact, the goaltender didn’t see the ice at all in the Collingwood Blues’ run to the quarterfinals of Canada’s National Junior A Championship, serving as backup as Noah Pak played every second of the Blues’ 24 postseason games.

But this season, it’s a much different story.

One thing has remained the same, though—Molinaro is back at the national championship. He’s just got a much more active role, stopping pucks for the Calgary Canucks as they chase a national title.

And since the hockey gods work in mysterious ways, it was fitting that when Molinaro and the Canucks hit the ice for their first game on May 9, it was Pak standing in the crease at the other end.

Neither goaltender will be adding that game to their personal highlight reel—Molinaro allowed five goals on 26 shots, while Pak surrendered four for just the sixth time in 62 starts as the Canucks dropped a 5-4 decision in a game dominated by special teams.

“Before [the game], I walked into the rink and I saw the Collingwood equipment manager, Richard Judges. So it was kind of crazy,” Molinaro says of seeing familiar faces. “Once I got on the ice, it was so weird playing against Noah and [Mark] McIntosh, [Spencer] Young, all those guys. Obviously, I didn't have my best [game]. Probably one of my worst games of the year, but it's all right. We'll see them again, hopefully.”

When the 2022-23 season ended for Collingwood with its 4-2 loss to the Ottawa Jr. Senators in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, so too did Molinaro’s time as a Blue. He was terrific as a backup, fashioning a 2.33 goals-against average and .901 save percentage in 20 appearances, but with Pak set to return for a final Junior A season, Molinaro was ready for a change, and an opportunity to be a starter.

Enter Canucks head coach and general manager Brad Moran, who officially acquired the goaltender on July 11.

“I know he didn't play in the playoffs, but he had been through the experience,” Moran says of Molinaro’s time in Collingwood, “and to come through a winning team in a playoffs where you don't play, but have your teammates, coaches and everyone else commending you for the attitude [and] the effort was something that definitely opened our eyes.”

The Mississauga, Ontario, native was even better than advertised, leading all Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) puck-stoppers with 27 wins and six shutouts, and finishing third with a 2.60 GAA and .916 save percentage.

He then won 12 of his 15 postseason starts with terrific numbers (2.56 GAA, .908 SV%), backstopping the Canucks to their first AJHL championship since 1999 and their first trip to the Centennial Cup since they won their lone national title in 1995.

“Deep down I knew I could [be a starter], but you don't actually know until you do it,” Molinaro says. “And once I got the chance and the opportunity to run with things and Brad gave me the ball, I think I really got in the groove and it helped me a lot. It's a great feeling, knowing you have the whole staff and team behind you.”

“He came in, he was the top goalie in our league this year in my mind, and gave us a chance to win every night,” Moran adds. “He pushed our guys on and off the ice, and that's what we want.”

Two days after the Canucks finished their sweep of the Whitecourt Wolverines to win the AJHL title, Molinaro officially committed to Northern Michigan University, where he’ll join the Wildcats this fall.

It’s been nothing but success for the 20-year-old, and no one is happier for him than his former partner.

“He's got an unreal work ethic, one of the hardest working guys I know,” Pak says. “I'm super happy for him and getting his commitment and his success this year… couldn't be happier for him.”

But there’s one more piece of the puzzle that makes this homecoming even more special for Molinaro.

He and his father, Jason, were fixtures at Blades games as Julian grew up, and when the Canucks stepped onto the ice at the Sixteen Mile Sports Complex for the first time, Molinaro knew just where to look.

“I almost started crying, because my dad was in the corner where we grew up watching Blades games,” he says. “I've been at this rink since I was seven years old watching the Blades every Friday night, and me and my dad always sat in the same corner, and now to be on the ice and him to be in that corner, I think it's unbelievable. It's really full circle.”

Now all that’s left is the Hollywood ending. The Canucks face the Winkler Flyers in a Friday quarterfinal, with a semifinal date with the Melfort Mustangs awaiting the winner.

For more information:

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 284-6484 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 777-4567

Jeremy Knight
Manager, Corporate Communications
Hockey Canada

(647) 251-9738

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