No goalie feels more pressure at the world junior hockey championship than Canada's starter, says the man cultivating the next one.
Ron Tugnutt is the Canadian team's goaltending coach and has personally experienced that kind of pressure. In addition to a long NHL career, Tugnutt twice represented Canada at the men's world championship.
"There's a lot more pressure on our goalie than on the other teams," Tugnutt said Tuesday at selection camp in Calgary.
When European teams win the semi-final, they're thrilled at the prospect of "at least" a silver medal, but Canadian players aren't interested in anything but gold, he explained.
"When we win the semifinal game, we're only thinking one thing," Tugnutt added.
With no incumbent from the previous world junior championship, a major subplot of selection camp in Calgary this week is who will be Canada's starter, backup and alternate at the 2013 world junior championship starting Dec. 26 in Ufa, Russia.
In a new development, Canada will take a third goaltender as insurance against injury because of the travel time required to get to south-central Russia.
Malcolm Subban of the Belleville Bulls, Laurent Brossoit of the Edmonton Oil Kings, Jordan Binnington of the Owen Sound Attack and Jake Paterson of the Saginaw Spirit are the four invitees. There's little time for them to impress head coach Steve Spott as the 23-player team will be finalized Thursday afternoon.
Spott tried to dampen speculation that Subban, the younger brother of Montreal Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban, has the inside track on the starting job because he plays on European-sized ice at Belleville's Yardman Arena.
After four years on North American ice, the world junior tournament returns to a surface four metres wider with just over a half-metre more space between the back of the net and the end boards.
"Contrary to belief, there's no starting job being given out, I can tell you guys that," Spott told reporters Tuesday. "That's going to be a really good subplot to this training camp, to see which guys we take over. That third goalie is a unique position. He may not see any action at all."
Tugnutt says Subban's big-ice experience is one check mark in his favour.
"I know myself as a goalie I struggled with the bigger ice," Tugnutt said. "I think it is an advantage for him just because it is a different visual. He sees it every day. But that's not going to be the determining factor on what happens here."
Here's a look at the four goaltenders invited:
- Malcolm Subban: The 6-foot-2, 201-pound Toronto native has some of the flamboyance of his older brother, according to Tugnutt. The first-round pick of the Boston Bruins posted a 15-7-3 record with Belleville. "He's extremely athletic. You think you have an easy goal and it's taken away," Tugnutt said.
- Laurent Brossoit: Calgary Flames draft pick led the Edmonton Oil Kings to a Western Hockey League championship last season. Fills the net at six foot three and 200 pounds and is 12-4-2-3 so far this season with the Oil Kings. " A big, strong physical kid who is great around his crease," said Tugnutt. "He's got all the tools necessary to make to the next level."
- Jordan Binnington: Owen Sound Attack goalie has moxie. When he was left off the junior team that played a summer series against Russia, Binnington told Tugnutt "you're making a mistake." The St. Louis Blues prospect had a strong start to the season with a 17-6-1-2 record and 2.07 goals-against average.
- Jake Paterson: The lone 18-year-old in the bunch, Paterson plays behind a young Saginaw Spirit team and faces a lot of rubber. The Detroit Red Wings draft pick lacks the international experience of the other three invitees. "From what I've heard, I've heard Malcolm is probably the No. 1 guy heading into camp, but I think it's really up in the air as to which goalies are going to get selected to the team," Paterson said.
Like a CFL quarterback or the skip of a curling team, Canada's goaltenders can get more blame and more credit than they deserve for the outcome a game.
But there is a sense that goaltending has been a weak link for Canada at the last three tournaments with silver in 2010 and 2011 and bronze this year in Alberta.
Jake Allen was pulled in a loss to the U.S. in the 2010 final in Saskatoon. Mark Visentin gave up five goals to Russia in the third period of the 2011 final in Buffalo, N.Y., and Scott Wedgewood allowed four goals on 14 shots before leaving this year's semifinal loss to Russia with an injury.
Before alarms sound over the state of Canadian goaltending, Tugnutt points out the U.S. also switched goaltenders in that 2010 championship game, as did the Russians in the semifinal in Calgary.
"It seems like the other teams are pulling their goalies too," he said. "Don't tell me everyone else's is better then ours. That's not the case.
"People lose sight that these guys are 18, 19 years old. They're learning their way and they're feeling more pressure than they've ever felt in their lifetime. Even the calmest of guys will struggle with that."
So character and temperament are other boxes the coaches want to check when choosing their goalies, according to Spott.
"They're like the pitchers in baseball," the coach said. "There's a lot of pressure on these guys. You have to make sure they've got the right mindset to handle that type of pressure that goes with being the goalie with this team."
When asked upon their arrival at selection how they would feel about being the third goaltender chosen, the four said they would be willing to do it, or said they were going to do their best to be one of the two goalies chosen to play in the tournament.
It would be an even tougher pill to swallow for that goaltender's club team, who would be without their star for over three weeks knowing he won't play in Russia unless another goalie gets injured.
"I'm sure they're not (okay with it), but they're also understanding," Tugnutt said. "It's a business for them too. They want their starting goalie.
"They might be (thinking) . . . 'my goalie is getting some great practice with Ron Tugnutt. How many points is that getting me?"'