Canadian head coach Don Hay stood up for one of his goaltenders Sunday saying no one lets Mark Visentin forget what happened at the world junior championship last year when there was more than one player responsible for Canada’s gold-medal meltdown.
It was a compassionate take. Just don’t mistake it as something more.
When Canada plays its semi-final game Tuesday against either Russia or the Czech Republic, there’s a distinct possibility Hay will have Scott Wedgewood starting in net and Visentin on the bench, and with good reason, too.
While Visentin looked steady during the round-round portion of the 2012 tournament, Wedgewood was that much better. Versus the Czechs in round-robin play, he recorded a shutout, drew an assist on one of Canada’s five goals and had fans in Edmonton chanting his name. On New Year’s Eve against the United States, Wedgewood made 30 saves, including some of his best after being knocked helmet over skate blades by a sliding Emerson Etem of the United States.
Statistically, there’s not much to chose between Visentin (2-0, 1.50 goals against average) and Wedgewood (2-0, 1.00 GAA). And yet Wedgewood comes with better puck handling skills and no heavy baggage. That could be a strong consideration should Canada play Russia and the memories of 2011 return, to say nothing of the pressure.
“Both goalies have played really well,” Hay said after the Canadians settled into the Calgary Flames’ dressing room at the Scotiabank Saddledome. “We’re a new team. Our players have moved on. … [With Visentin] no one lets him forget. It’s been really tough on Mark. He wasn’t the only one in that game.”
Beyond those words, Hay said only that the team would practise Tuesday before he and his four assistants would meet to determine who would start in goal. “If there’s a tie,” Hay added, “I make the final call.”
Wedgewood has done his best to make that call go in his favour. A year ago, he was barely on Hockey Canada’s radar screen; he wasn’t even invited to the 2011 selection camp. He drew positive attention when his play improved with the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League and he got to start against Russia in the Subway Super Series. From there, Wedgewood was invited to Canada’s 2012 selection camp, where he was thought by many to be a backup to Visentin, one of the few returning players.
Knowing his playing time would be based on how well he performed, Wedgewood has tried to make every save and learn from those he’s missed.
“As a goalie you never want to be scored on, but you’re not perfect,” he said before launching into an explanation on how he gave up a second goal to the Americans last Saturday. “When the puck went behind the net, I took a little look out front trying to find that third player. … It ended up being the wrong decision at the time, but I wasn’t expecting to shut out every team the whole tournament.”
Wedgewood, 19, like Visentin, has revelled in his playing time. After the Czech game last week, he spoke about looking up in the stands at Rexall Place in Edmonton to find his parents and brothers because “it was something they’ll probably remember as much as I will. It was pretty sweet.” He’s also talked about the history of the tournament and what it has meant to him and others.
“Carey Price, Steve Mason, guys I admired growing up,” said Wedgewood, who lists his idol as Martin Brodeur, a fitting choice since Wedgewood was drafted in the third round by the New Jersey Devils in 2010. “If you were to stand in the net and think about it, kids that are 8 or 10 right now, goalies looking at me and Mark, wishing they could play like that. So to be here is a completely surreal feeling. You got to enjoy the moment. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Asked if he was anxious not knowing for sure if he’d start, Wedgewood replied calmly he was fine with whatever Hay decided. To feel anything else would only be counterproductive.
“For the most part, I’m where I want to be. Everything seems to be working for me so far. My head is clear,” he said, “and it’s just another hockey game, really.”
Defenceman Scott Harrington (lower body) and Nathan Beaulieu (puck in the jaw) were both injured against the United States. Hay said with an extra day’s rest, “Everyone should be ready for the [semi-final]game.”