January 04, 2012

Canada's Loss Reveals Goaltending Troubles

After yet another heartbreaking loss to the Russians, the Canadian skaters are doing exactly what they should after their goalie tandem gave up six goals: blaming themselves.

Canada was handed a 6-5 loss, their riveting comeback effort falling just shy after trailing by five with little more than 10 minutes left in the game. Regardless, the six goals allowed by the Canadian goaltending were not used as an excuse.

In all of their post-game interviews, not one bad word was spoken of either starter Scott Wedgewood or reliever Mark Visentin. The teammates took the entire blame on their own shoulders, an impressive display of leadership in the midst of a very difficult outcome.

The trouble is leaders will more often say what is right than what is true. The fact is, Russia’s goaltending let 5 goals through them on 54 shots, while Canada’s duo allowed 6 goals on just 24 shots. The deflections off the snake-bitten Ryan Murray offer no excuses. Netminders at this level must make more of those tough saves.

This is not a country that is used to such feeble performances between the pipes. Canada has a proud history of legendary goalies backing stingy defenses. When team Canada needed stand-on-your-head goaltending, fans had the luxury of taking it for granted.

Nowadays, Canada’s net at the World Juniors is increasingly average. In a tournament that not long ago was dominated by prodigious goalies out of Quebec, the talk has shifted to traditionally attack-minded European sides.

Examples from the 2012 tournament are the flashy Czech Petr Mrazek, and Russia’s Andrei Vasilevski who, despite the rough finish, kept the Canadian offense at bay for 50 out of 60 minutes.

The Canadian keepers did not have the same kind of star power coming in to this tournament, and while Scott Wedgewood’s exceptional play early on got people talking, getting yanked halfway through the semi-finals will be his mark on the World Juniors.

The performance against the Russians, along with the collapse of Mark Visentin in the 2011 gold medal game, continues a trend that has spanned the better part of a decade. The days of spectacular goaltending are in the rear view mirror for World Junior fans, which makes the same effect on Canada’s senior squads inevitable.

Fortunately, the Canadian Juniors of the mid to late 2000s brought such overwhelming talent in the offensive zone that they continued to steam roll their way through the holidays. Panic has been delayed up to now.

The cover-up could only last until Canada was twice knocked out of contention by the hated Russians. The lack of success has lifted the veil from over the Canadian net, and the fear is that this nation is on the path to a full-blown goaltending crisis.

This would be, no doubt, the worst position that could possibly dry up for any program. Over the last century, no matter how the game has evolved, the goaltender has remained the most critical component of a hockey team. If Canada truly is running out of young netminders, the result 20 years down the road will be disastrous.

To avoid this catastrophe, Hockey Canada must do all the necessary digging to find out why they are not developing goalies. Right now, all we have is speculation by decreasingly wise hockey writers, none of whom offer any legitimate solutions.

Hockey Canada knows best why they fall short, and if they are serious about maintaining this country’s hockey dominance, they will be humble enough to honestly assess and address any of their findings.

It is truly important that they recognize that goaltending is a serious issue, and take any necessary action, or else put their fans through suffering on far bigger stages than the World Juniors.

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