Team Canada’s WJC Achilles’ Heel?

A look back at a decade of Team Canada U20 WJC Goalies –

Author’s Note:  I just want to preface this by saying that I don’t in any way think it was the goalie’s fault that Team Canada lost the 2016-17 WJC U20 “Gold Medal Game” against the Americans.  I thought that Carter Hart played a solid game. He was also great in the shootout while his teammates didn’t give him any support.  Overall, he didn’t play well enough to steal the game but he also didn’t play poorly enough to cost Canada the game.  He was just kind of … there.

Next thing that I need to get out of the way is how the tournaments are named. The tournament that just concluded was the 2017 tournament and it started in 2016.  Meaning the 2016 tournament started in 2015, and so on.  What this means is that the 2017 tournament can have players in it that turn 20 years old in 2017 (i.e. players born in 1997).  It seems rather simple to follow but quite honestly it was confusing me when I was looking at the past rosters of Team Canada.  Just remember the year of the tournament is always the year of the medal rounds.

I would also like to take this opportunity to apologize for whenever I refer to “Team Canada” as “we”.  I’m Canadian and I like to refer to my favourite sports teams (in any sport) in the first person plural.  Pardon, my biased journalism.

Now that I’ve gotten that out-of-the-way, I’ve decided to do something productive with my night.  Rather than sulk over the loss all night, I decided to take a look back at some of the goalies who have recently suited up for Canada at the IIHF U20 World Junior Championships.  Goaltending, for whatever reason, has always seemed to be Team Canada’s Achilles’ heel at the junior level.  Year after year we churn out a roster packed with talent but it seems year after year we put a seemingly sub-par goalie in our crease.  I don’t know if it’s something in our national team system, our coaching, or if it’s something else entirely.

I think that we all can agree that the last REAL good goalie Team Canada had at the World Juniors is current Montreal Canadiens netminder Carey Price.  Price was on the 2007 team that claimed gold in Sweden.  Well, it’s been a decade since that happened, so I figured I’d take a look at the 20 or so goalies that have played for the Canadian junior team since then.  I’ll give a quick recap of how the team did at the tournament and take a look at what the goalie is doing now.

2008:  Steve Mason

Team Canada was led by two 19-year-olds in goal: Steve Mason and Jonathan Bernier. Actually, both of these guys are in the NHL, so it looks like our little trip down memory lane has gotten off to a good start.  Almost as good of a start as Steve Mason’s career.  Mason finished his rookie year with a 33-20-7 record with a 2.29 GAA and a .916 save percentage.  He was awarded the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie.  Unfortunately for Mason, the rest of his Blue Jackets career was marred by poor play.  In 2013 he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Michael Leighton (whose last name sounds like it’d be a great name for a canned soup company for some reason) and a third round pick. Since joining the Flyers, Mason has seen his career revitalized, and is currently the starting goalie in Philly.

Bernier, meanwhile, hasn’t exactly had his career go quite as planned after being taken 11th overall in 2006.  He spent his first six seasons as a pro splitting his time between the AHL and the Los Angeles Kings’ bench behind Jonathan Quick. At least he got a Stanley Cup out of the deal.  He was later traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs.  All I can really remember from his tenure in Toronto was the media tearing into him, but upon further investigation, his stats didn’t appear to be too bad.  Despite this, Bernier found himself traded back to the western coast, this time to Anaheim.  Now 28 years old, Bernier again finds himself sharing the crease, this time with Ducks teammate John Gibson.  By the way, Canada defeated Sweden for gold at the World Juniors the year that these two were on the team, and Steve Mason was actually named tournament MVP.

2009: Dustin Tokarski  

Team Canada went with Dustin Tokarski and Winnipegger Chet Pickard between the pipes.  Tokarski started his career briefly with Tampa Bay before being shipped out to Montreal.  I’m sure playing behind both Carey Price and Peter Budaj did wonders for his playing time.  Anyway, he actually did see playing time in the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals after Price went down with injury and actually played pretty well.  Montreal lost the series but Tokarski solidified himself as the backup over Budaj going into next season.  However, a year later he was sent to the minors and later traded to the Anaheim Ducks, and currently, spends a lot of his time playing in the AHL with the San Diego Gulls.  But hey, at least he’s in San Diego.  

Now Chet Pickard.  I initially thought he was currently playing with the Avalanche, but that is, in fact, his brother Calvin.  Unfortunately, Chet has never played an NHL game.  After being drafted 18th overall by Nashville in 2008, he spent most of his three-year entry deal playing in the ECHL and AHL.  In 2012, Pickard left North America to play in Sweden.  He made a comeback in 2013 for the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons but was loaned to the ECHL after just six games. In 2014 he returned to Europe, this time heading to Denmark, and playing with the Odense Bulldogs of the Metal Ligaen. After a year in Denmark, Pickard signed a two-year contract with the Iserlohn Roosters of Germany’s DEL, where he is currently the team’s backup goalie.  Canada enjoyed a 6-0 record at the 2009 edition of the tournament, en route to a fifth straight gold medal.

2010: Jake Allen   

The Canadian junior squad gave us Jake Allen and Martin Jones in goal. Jake Allen spent a solid six years as the St. Louis Blues’ backup/goalie-of-the-future.  With the Brian Elliot trade last summer, it looks like 26-year-old Allen has finally earned the starting duties.  I don’t really know what else to say about Allen at this point other than he was a second-round pick of St. Louis back in 2008, he’s always had solid numbers (even in the NHL) and that I think that the Blues are making the right choice going with him over Elliot (and I thought this even before Elliott decided to spit out a sub .900 save percentage for Calgary so far this year).

As for Martin Jones, his pro career didn’t really get off to a hot start but is really starting to heat up.  After going undrafted, Jones began his career behind both Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier on the L.A. Kings’ depth chart.  His AHL career actually got off to a really great start, as he posted a 16-3 record with a .939 save percentage and 1.93 GAA in his first 22 games.  This led to him being selected to play in the AHL All-Star game.  

Bernier was later traded, but Ben Scrivens was part of the return and thus Jones did not move up the depth chart.  Scrivens was later traded and Jones became backup until Jones himself was traded two times within a week, each time being traded for a first round pick.  

The second trade landed him in San Jose, where he became the Sharks’ starting goalie and a good one at that.  He finished his first year as the starter with a 2.27 GAA and a .918 save percentage, to go along with six shutouts.  He led the Sharks to the Stanley Cup Finals, starting in 24 playoff games and earning three shutouts.  He has picked up right where he left off with his stellar play continuing into this year.  In conclusion, the 2010 Canadian World Junior team boasts two current starting NHL goalies but was defeated by the United States in overtime in the gold medal game.

2011: Mark Visentin

The Canadian goalies were Mark Visentin and Olivier Roy.  Visentin was the 27th overall pick when he was drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes in 2010.  He began his pro career with two average seasons in the AHL.  In 2014, he got into his first and so far only NHL game.  After the 2014-15 season, Visentin was not given a qualifying offer by the Coyotes and instead signed with the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs, the affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks. He played 13 games for the IceHogs before an injury cut his season short.  At the beginning of the 2016-17 season, Visentin signed with the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals, the affiliate of the Nashville Predators.  He currently finds himself playing in the ECHL with the Cincinnati Cyclones, where he has a 6-5 record with a 2.92 save percentage and a .892 save percentage.  

There hasn’t been much to Roy’s career really.  He was a 5th round pick of the Oilers back in 2009 and spent four years splitting his time between the AHL and ECHL affiliates of both the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames, putting up respectable numbers.  He has spent the past two seasons playing for two different teams in Austria, again seemingly putting up respectable numbers.  

Team Canada took silver in 2011, after relinquishing a 3-0 lead after two periods. Visentin was in the net in the final.  

2012: Mark Visentin

Mark Visentin returned in 2012 and was joined by New Jersey Devils’ prospect Scott Wedgewood. Wedgewood, a third rounder in 2010, has spent the majority of his first five years as a pro with the Albany Devils of the AHL.  He has gotten into 4 NHL games and actually has a shutout to his credit, and can boast a .957 save percentage in the big league.  He also gets bonus points because I picked him to be my AHL goalie in my fantasy draft in NHL 17. That and his name is fun to say aloud.  That’s why he gets bonus points. Canada meanwhile didn’t make the final at the World Juniors for the first time in 11 years in 2012 but did capture bronze with a victory over the Finns.

2013: Malcolm Subban 

Ah yes, the 2013 World Juniors.  The lockout year which resulted in the media proclaimed “Canadian dream team”.  Yeah, some dream team that was. For some reason, the dream team had three goalies and I can’t really remember what happened. Maybe one of the goalies was hurt. Maybe one of them was suspended like Mackenzie Blackwood was last year.  I can’t remember.  What I can remember is that Malcolm Subban was the starter for the majority of the games, and he played less than spectacular.  The other two goalies on the team were Jordan Binnington and Jake Paterson. 

Let’s start with Paterson.  I quite frankly have no idea who this guy is.  He’s apparently not even noteworthy enough to have his own Wikipedia page. Despite this, I was able to discover that he was actually a third-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings back in 2012 and still plays in their system.  He put up solid numbers in the ECHL last year and is playing well down there again this year. 

Binnington was also a third round pick, taken by St. Louis in 2011.  In 2013-14, he played his first pro year in the ECHL with the Kalamazoo Wings, finishing with a 23-13-3 record with 2.35 GAA and a .922 save percentage.  He has played the last three seasons with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves, seeing his GAA increase each year and his save percentage decrease each year.  Subban was taken 24th overall by the Boston Bruins in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.  He is now entering his fourth season in the AHL with Providence Bruins, and much like Binnington, he has seen GAA increase each year and his save percentage decrease each year. Also, his NHL debut probably did not go the way that he dreamed it up as a kid. He gave up three goals on three shots and was pulled.  His career NHL save percentage in two games sits at .727.  As you may have been able to tell by my sarcasm earlier, the “dream team” didn’t do so hot in this tournament.  Their loss to Russia in the bronze medal game left Canada without a medal for the first time since 1998.

2014: Zach Fucale

In 2014, Jake Paterson returned to the crease for Canada.  He was joined by Memorial Cup winner Zach Fucale. Fucale is currently a prospect for the Montreal Canadiens (I’m sure that there are easier lineups to crack as a goalie) after they selected him in the second round in 2013.  He finished his rookie campaign with the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps with a 16-19-4 record to go with 3.13 GAA and a .903 save percentage.  He’s currently playing in the ECHL with the Brampton Beast. Canada finished fourth for the second consecutive year, losing to the Russians in the bronze medal game again

 

2015: Zach Fucale

The 2015 Canadian junior team featured a Winnipeg Jets’ prospect in goal in Eric Comrie, who was joined by returnee Zach Fucale.  As Jet fans know, Eric Comrie had a terrific rookie season last year on a dreadful Moose squad and is playing well again this year.  The future looks bright for him and for the Winnipeg Jets.  Canada beat Russia in the final and ended their gold medal drought at the World Juniors.  Current Winnipeg Jets Nic Petan and Josh Morrissey also represented Canada that tournament.  Side note: Does anyone else remember Petan’s hat trick against the Slovaks in the semis?

 

2016: Mackenzie Blackwood

Due to Mackenzie Blackwood’s suspension, Canada had three goalies on their roster at last year’s World Juniors.  Joining Blackwood were Mason McDonald and Samuel Montembeault (the latter did not see any playing time).  Blackwood, a second-round pick of the Devils in 2015, has started his rookie year off with the Albany Devils of the AHL.  He is currently 7-6-1 with a 3.24 GAA and a .889 save percentage. McDonald was also chosen in the second round, taken 34th overall by the Calgary Flames in 2014.  He is currently in the ECHL with the Adirondack Thunder. He is 9-6-2 with a 2.76 GAA and a .897 save percentage.  Montembeault was a third-round pick of the Panthers in 2015.  He has returned to the QMJHL for his overage year, playing for the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, where he is 12-6-0 with a 2.79 GAA and a .904 save percentage.  Canada finished a disappointing sixth place last year.

2017: Carter Hart 

This year the Canadian goalies were both from the WHL.  They were Connor Ingram and Carter Hart. Ingram plays with the Kamloops Blazers and actually leads the league in save percentage at .935.  Second place in save percentage in the WHL is Carter Hart, who plays for the Everett Silvertips and has a .928 save percentage.  Ingram is a prospect for the Tampa Bay Lightning, Hart a prospect of the Philadelphia Flyers.

At times in the tournament I thought our goaltending was adequate, at others, I was scared about how woefully inefficient it would be.  I thought Hart looked shaky in the opener against Russia, but then again Russia is a good team, and he did enough to win.  Like many, I didn’t see enough of Ingram in against Slovakia to make a judgment, seeing as he only had to make six saves.  It was the following games that worried me.  As I watched the goaltending performance play out over the next few games I pondered, “Do we have the worst goalies in the tournament?”  

I often wondered what the scores would be like if the goalies were switched. Say if against Latvia we had the Latvian goalie and they had either Hart or Ingram.  I wondered what the score would be like.  Would it be better?  Worse?  I honestly thought we were done going into the semis.  I thought Sweden was gonna light us up.  We barely survived the Czech game, and that team was a mess defensively.  I knew that if we turned in the same performance against a better team in Sweden that we would get killed.  I was not surprised when Ingram was pulled after a .333 save percentage.  However, I was surprised when Hart came in and shut the door.  I figured he would be just as futile as Ingram, but he came in and he proved me wrong.  And as mentioned earlier, I felt he was adequate in the gold medal game.  He didn’t steal the game for us, but he definitely doesn’t deserve the blame for the loss.

So in total, in the TEN tournaments, since Price was in goal for Canada, there’s been nineteen different goalies named to the Canadian junior team.  Of the nineteen, three are currently starting in the NHL (Mason, Jones, and Allen), one is a backup in the NHL (Bernier), two are playing in Europe (Pickard and Roy), three are in junior (the two this year and Montembeault) and the rest are either in the AHL or the ECHL. There are great goalies and there are busts on this list.  After doing the research for this article, I wasn’t really able to find the answer to my question.  Are the Canadian goaltender struggles a talent problem?  A coaching problem?  A system problem?  Some other kind of problem?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that goaltending wasn’t the problem last night, and we still lost.

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Riley Malinowski (5 Posts)


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