His rebounds aren’t fat – they’re obese.
He can’t keep a puck in his glove.
But he gets the job done.
And so, the great, seemingly eternal question concerning young Canadian goaltender Malcolm Subban was answered here Sunday afternoon at Ufa Arena.
There was once, far back in the frozen mists of Edmonton time, another goaltender who caused heart palpitations and eyelids to slam shut and nails to be bitten to the quick, but Grant Fuhr won when it counted. Always. They talked about his soft goals and his cringing rebounds back then, just as today those comments are sent with a roll of eyes in Subban’s direction; but now when they speak of Grant Fuhr it is to laud his five Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers and his rightful place in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Malcolm Subban is not Grant Fuhr and may never reach such heights, but on a day when it counted – Canada versus the United States at the World Junior Hockey Championship – he more than got the job done as Canada claimed a 2-1 victory.
“He proved a lot of people wrong,” said forward Ryan Strome, who had the winning goal for Canada.
“I was feeling it today,” agreed Subban, who was given the black “Player-of-the-Game” cape by the Team Canada coaches.
“I’m really proud of him,” head coach Steve Spott said of his young goaltender. Subban, he said, played with a “swagger” Spott had noted during the summer series but had not been much in evidence until this, Canada’s third game in the tournament, even though Subban was in net for Canada’s victories over Germany and Slovakia.
“We needed that,” Spott added. “You’ve got to have elite goaltending to win this tournament.”
Canada now plays Russia here New Year’s Ever to finish out the round robin prior to the top teams moving on to the deciding games.
With both the Canadians and Americans passing early on as if they’d rarely used a stick to hit a puck before, the pressure was more on the goaltenders than might have been expected. And Subban was superb, kicking out shots that did not, fortunately, rebound onto U.S. sticks and stopping swift American forward John Gaudreau on a clear breakaway.
From that stop on, Subban said, he knew he was in the “zone.”
The Canadian forwards had significantly more luck, captain Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scoring on a wrist shot following a deft pass from linemate Jonathan Huberdeau.
Strome put Canada up 2-0 when he snapped in a rebound off a wraparound attempt by Brett Ritchie.
It seemed a Canadian rout was on, and might well have been but for the fine play of American goaltender John Gibson, who was chosen “Player of the Game” for the Americans just as Subban was for Canada.
Gibson stopped Jonathan Drouin on a break and then robbed Mark Scheifele with a glove save when it seemed all Scheifele had to do was scoop the puck into the open side.
The Canadians, however, were playing with the lead, so such frustration did not have the same effect on them as Subban’s play had on the Americans. They began dancing for clearer shots, which only caused them to enter thicker Canadian traffic and lose their chances.
It was Gibson, the goaltender, who somewhat put the Americans back into the game when he turned aside Canada’s Ty Rattie on a rush and, almost instantly, the puck was back down the ice and in behind Subban on a wild goalmouth scramble. The goal was credited to Jacob Trouba.
The Americans could not reload, however. Instead, a string of unnecessary penalties derailed much hope of a comeback. They pressed hardest in the dying minutes, pulling Gibson for an extra attacker while Canada was also shorthanded, but even with such an advantage they could not penetrate Subban’s force field. The victory was Canada’s, much to the delight of the 400 or more red-jersey Canadian fans in the rink.
It was an interesting match but hardly one for the ages. It was below what Canadian fans had grown used to in past years of New Year’s clashes between Team USA and Team Canada.
What there was, instead, was Malcolm Subban on full display – and he more than lived up to head coach Steve Spott’s faith in him. Spott has said he will ride Subban in net for as long as the team sees success in this tournament. A far greater test will come almost immediately, when the Canadians meet the Russians on New Year’s Eve. The Russians also beat the Americans in the round robin.
Grant Fuhr once answered a question from Peter Gzowski when Gzowski was researching The Game of Our Lives, his book on the early Oilers. He asked a very young Fuhr if he found playing at the highest NHL level much tougher than junior.
Much to Gzowski’s astonishment, the young goaltender answered “No.”
Watching Subban so calm under fire in the dying moments of this game, with the Americans pulling Gibson for the extra man and the Canadians shorthanded, it seemed the same ice flows through his veins as ran through Fuhr.
He may well need it once the puck drops against the Russians.