The battle for jobs on defence and at forward on Canada’s junior hockey team may be over, but the internal goaltending competition is underway.
Malcolm Subban of the Belleville Bulls and Jordan Binnington of the Owen Sound Attack will try to prove during Canada’s pre-competition camp in Finland next week that they deserve to be Canada’s starter at the world junior hockey championships in Ufa, Russia.
Canadian head coach Steve Spott revealed Saturday that Jake Paterson of the Saginaw Spirit will be his alternate goaltender.
This year’s team has taken the unusual step of bringing a third goaltender for insurance against injury and because of the travel distance to south-central Russia.
“Jake’s going to be a big part of this program again next year and for years to come,” Spott said. “We will start with the two 19-year-olds, Malcolm and Jordan and we’ll see how that plays out.”
The 23 players had their first practice as a team Saturday and the only one in Canada before heading to the airport later in the afternoon. Canada will play exhibition games against the host Finns on Dec. 20 and Sweden on Dec. 22 before heading to Ufa on Dec. 23.
Spott set a hard pace in practice that went over an hour.
“I don’t think they expected a practice like that, I can tell you that,” he said. “We wanted to push them here today so they can sleep on the plane. It’s going to be a long day of travel and a long night so we wanted to make sure we pushed them hard today.”
Centre Phillip Danault didn’t practice Saturday because he’d had a tooth pulled. Spott says because the team was flying that day, it was better for him to ride the bike.
Canada opens the world junior tournament Dec. 26 against Germany.
Countries submit their tournament rosters the day before, but the addition of a goaltender after that is allowed if one of the two are injured. Adding a defenceman or forward after the tournament starts isn’t allowed under International Ice Hockey Federation rules.
Spott says the starter’s job is an open competition.
Subban is the younger brother of Montreal Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban. Malcolm is accustomed to the wider ice Canada will play on in Ufa because Belleville’s Yardman Arena is the same size.
The six-foot-two, 201-pound Toronto native played for Canada in a four-game summer series against the Russians. Two games were played in Yaroslavl, Russia, and the other two in Halifax.
Subban went 2-0 with a win in each country. He was in net for the pivotal final game, which Canada won 4-2 to take the series. He has a 15-7-3 record, a 2.17 goals-against average and .932 save percentage with Belleville this season.
He’s athletic and quick. The goaltender’s demeanour influences the confidence of his teammates in front of him. Subban’s action on his glove saves announces “I’ve got this.”
The Boston Bruins prospect was believed to have the inside track on the starter’s job, but allowing three goals on seven shots in one exhibition game versus university players during selection camp didn’t inspire confidence.
“Like I said from the start of camp, I was coming here trying to earn my spot and that’s what I’m still trying to do,” Subban said Saturday.
Binnington, from Richmond Hill, Ont., didn’t play against the Russians in the summer, but came into selection camp playing the best of the four invited with a 17-6-1-2 record, 2.07 goals-against average and .930 save percentage.
“I’ve been feeling good,” Binnington said earlier this week. “Hopefully I won’t skip a stride here and just keep doing what I’m doing and things go well.”
The six-foot-two, 169-pound St. Louis Blues prospect is technically sound and covers angles well. Binnington has moxie too. When he was left off Canada’s summer roster, goaltending coach Ron Tugnutt says Binnington told him flat-out “you’re making a mistake.”
Subban and Binnington will be competing hard in the exhibition games for the distinction of No. 1, but Spott wasn’t ruling out giving Paterson ice time in those games.
“We might do a split. We’ve thought about that,” Spott said. “It’s important both Jordan and Malcolm feel they’re ready to go as well. We can’t lose sight of those two guys because they’re going to be dressing.”
Paterson, 18, was the youngest of the four goaltenders invited to camp. He made a case to be among the top two and was kept on the team ahead of Laurent Brossoit of the Edmonton Oil Kings.
Paterson, from Mississauga, Ont., stopped all 33 shots he faced over three games at camp.
“I’ll still have a chance to make the team next year, so I think just being with the guys and heading overseas with the team will be a good experience,” he said. “I’m trying to gain as much experience as I can and be a sponge over there.”
Paterson’s record with Saginaw this season was 12-1-0-1 with a 2.10 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage. The Spirit rely heavily on him.
It will be a hardship for coach Greg Gilbert and the team without Paterson, especially knowing their goalie might not get to play in the world junior tournament.
“The coaches told me when I left, they were all for it, whatever happens here,” Paterson said. “They’re behind me with this.”
The Detroit Red Wings draft pick can’t practise with his teammates in Ufa while he’s not on the active roster, so many of his mornings will be spent on the ice alone with Tugnutt. Paterson will also be put to work during games.
“I think me and Tugnutt will be up in the box doing stats or some pre-scouting as well,” he said. “It’s not like I’ll be over there doing nothing. Hopefully I’ll be a part of it somehow and helping the team any way I can.”