There is nothing like a heartbreaking loss in an international hockey tournament to set off a national debate, so here is a topic that’s been around before – what has happened to the crop of Canadian goaltenders?
While Tuesday night’s 6-5 loss to the Russians at the world junior tournament was a group effort, no one in that group contributed more than the goaltenders. Neither Scott Wedgewood nor, to a lesser extent, Mark Visentin was able to make a good save when the Canadians needed it, making it three years in a row Canada’s goaltending was not good enough for a gold medal.
Last year, Visentin was in goal for the famous meltdown that saw the Russians score five unanswered goals in the championship game. Again, Visentin was not the sole culprit as his defencemen fell apart in front of him, but he was unable to make the game-saving stop when it was necessary.
Wedgewood was the victim of three deflected goals on Tuesday but the third one could have been stopped. By the time he left the game due to an injury, Wedgewood had four goals against on 14 shots.
At the end of the night, the shots were 56-24 for Canada, numbers that do not flatter its goaltenders.
The goaltenders people will talk about by the end of this tournament are Petr Mrazek of the Czech Republic and Russia’s Andrei Vasilevski, even though he was also pulled in the Canada game.
While Canada was involved in 10 consecutive gold-medal games before this year’s world junior, goaltending was an issue in the last three years.
In 2010, Canadian starter Jake Allen had to be pulled after the Americans scored five goals in the gold-medal game, which ended a string of five consecutive championships for Canada.
You have to go back to 2008 to find a Canadian goaltender who is now an NHL regular. Steve Mason of the Columbus Blue Jackets had a great rookie season in the NHL but the only thing keeping him in the league now is the ridiculous contract Jackets general manager Scott Howson gave him based on that single season and the fact Howson has not been able to find a replacement.
Carey Price was the goaltender for Canada when it won the junior gold back in 2007. He is the only candidate under 25 years of age in sight for the role of the country’s next great goaltender.
When you extend the debate to the NHL, it does not get any more encouraging. The Pittsburgh Penguins’ Marc-Andre Fleury, 27, is pretty much the only name to add, although some would consider Cam Ward, 27, of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Martin Brodeur took over from Patrick Roy as Canada’s anchor in goal 10 years ago at the 2002 Winter Olympics when the country’s first gold medal in 50 years was won. But Brodeur always had some competition for the title from athletes like Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour. Belfour is in The Hockey Hall of Fame, Joseph has a shot at it and Brodeur is a lock when he retires.
Since then, Roberto Luongo became Canada’s goaltender but his inconsistency makes his reign more of a caretaker position than anything. Fleury should be the man through the 2014 Olympics unless Price snatches the job away.
But both goaltenders have yet to prove they are the equal of Brodeur. Admittedly that is a tall order. The big problem is the field is awfully patchy once you get past those two.
A stroll through the NHL statistics does not produce a long list of Canadians from the league’s leading goaltenders. Among the No. 1 goalies for their teams, there is Brian Elliott of the St. Louis Blues and Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes. Few would argue when it is pointed out this season is an aberration compared to both goalies’ body of work.
The best candidate to join the fight to be Canada’s goaltender might be Jonathan Bernier of the Los Angeles Kings. But he’s the backup to an American, Jonathan Quick, and needs a trade or an unlikely Quick collapse to prove it.