Canadian Junior Hockey fans have had their ups and downs with goaltending at the World Junior tournament. For the large part, they've been spoiled. During the infamous "Drive for Five", the Canadian crease was graced by goaltenders like Carey Price, Steve Mason, Jonathan Bernier, Justin Pogge and Dustin Tokarski. All of them, regardless of draft status or previous track record, came through when called upon to wear the red and white.
Jake Allen was Canada's starting netminder last year. Allen, in spite of a stellar junior track record (and an incredible start to his pro career this season), appeared shaky for most of the tournament. His performance came to a head in the gold medal game where he was eventually pulled in favour of Martin Jones.
Jones then allowed a questionable goal on a John Carlson wrist shot in overtime to end Canada's hope for a sixth gold medal.
With the admitted lack of a true superstar up front this year, it's easy to see more onus falling on the crease to get Canada back on the path to gold. Four candidates are at Canada's World Junior selection camp this week. Let's take a look at who might end up carrying Canada's hopes in goal.
CHL Team: Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
NHL Draft Status: Second Round - 49th Overall - 2010 NHL Entry Draft - Colorado Avalanche
History with Hockey Canada: 2010 IIHF U-18 World Championship (Seventh-place finish)
The Rundown: We've heard a lot over the last week about how this year's Team Canada might be in tough without a bona fide superstar in the line up. If that's the case, then it'll be the status quo for Pickard.
For the last three years, Pickard has been the backstop for a lunch pail gang in Seattle. Last year, NHL Central Scouting named the Manitoba-native as the best draft eligible goaltender in North America. Many believed that Jack Campbell rightfully held claim to that title. Their respective performances to date in the CHL might give Central Scouting a leg to stand on if that ranking were revisited.
Pickard's stats are, on their own, impressive. Through 28 games this year, Pickard has posted a 2.80 goals against average to go with a .926 save percentage. All this in what is routinely believed to be the WHL's most difficult division.
Those numbers become even more impressive when the following is taken into consideration. Pickard has faced a hundred more shots than any other goaltender in the league with a comparable amount of starts (meaning 25 or more). On average, Pickard faces 38.3 shots per game and boasts a 13-9-2-4 record. All without posting a single shutout this season. Calvin Pickard brings his hardhat every game, which should make him an ideal starter for this team.
CHL Team: Mississauga Majors (OHL)
NHL Draft Status: Signed as a Free Agent with the San Jose Sharks
History with Hockey Canada: 2009 U-17 World Hockey Challenge (Won)
The Rundown: JP Anderson has an in with Team Canada. His coach in Mississauga is also coaching Team Canada. But don't think that makes Anderson a shoe-in for one of the goaltending jobs.
Anderson's time in the CHL has been one of rising to challenges. Ringing in at just under 5'11", at a time when goaltenders seem to only be getting bigger, Anderson managed to be a first round pick in his OHL Draft year.
As a rookie, he saw a sizeable workload for a Mississauga team only a couple years removed from missing the playoffs. In 26 games, the rookie goaltender posted a .904 save percentage. In his sophomore year, Anderson struggled. This, in combination with his small stature, likely led to Anderson's slide down last year's Central Scouting draft chart. It likely also contributed to his passing through last June's draft. What has perhaps been overlooked is that Anderson stepped up to help carry his team in the playoffs. Making ten starts, the dynamic little goaltender posted a .924 save percentage to help carry Mississauga all the way to the Eastern Conference Final.
This year, the Majors netminder has been lights out. With a 2.29 goals against average and a .916 save percentage, no one can doubt that Anderson earned his way to this Evaluation Camp.
Some might argue that he plays behind the most defensively constrictive system in the League in Mississauga and they'd be right. But that also just means he'll have experience dealing with the system Dave Cameron is likely to implement with Team Canada.
CHL Team: Niagara Ice Dogs (OHL)
NHL Draft Status: First Round - 27th Overall - 2010 NHL Entry Draft - Phoenix Coyotes
History with Hockey Canada: 2009 U-17 World Hockey Challenge (Won)
The Rundown: When most people heard Mark Visentin's name mentioned in the first round at last year's draft, they had the same reaction.
Visentin wasn't a better known name like the USNTDP's Jack Campbell or Seattle's Calvin Pickard. Many thought the Coyotes had reached with this prospect. In the time since, he's done a very good job of trying to live up to his billing.
Visentin plays a very positionally sound style. He makes himself big, cuts down angles and tries to minimize rebounds. Now that he's closer to 6'2" than the 6'0", he's so often listed as, he may curry some favour with a Hockey Canada brass that is more comfortable with bigger goaltenders. But Visentin doesn't need his sheer size to do him favours, his play speaks volumes.
Unlike Anderson, who plays behind the defensive system in Mississauga and only sees on average 25.9 shots per game, Visentin sees 29.9 with the Niagara Ice Dogs. His stats are also every bit as impressive as Anderson's if not more. Visentin rates a 2.30 goals against average and a .921 save percentage.
The concern here, and other OHL watchers can speak to this, is that Visentin's style is similar to that of another OHL Goaltender who found himself in the World Junior Tournament, Thomas McCollum. Like Visentin, McCollum was a first round pick. The two have a similar build and play a fundamentally strong style. They also have a similar tendency with regard to lateral movement that Jordan Eberle and John Tavares managed to exploit in that infamous New Year's Eve game at the 2009 Tournament in Ottawa.
That having been said, that Visentin plays in coach Dave Cameron's division in the OHL might earn him some leeway from the coaching staff.
CHL Team: Acadie-Bathurst Titan (QMJHL)
NHL Draft Status: Fifth Round - 133rd Overall - 2009 NHL Entry Draft - Edmonton Oilers
History with Hockey Canada: 2008 U-17 World Hockey Challenge (Seventh-place finish)
The Rundown: Roy was, without question, the odds-on favourite for the Team Canada starter's job at the start of this season.
That he no longer is can be attributed both to his own play and to the play of the other goaltenders on this list. Roy's stats when measured against the other goaltenders don't stand out. He sees, on average, 30 shots per game, which puts him even with Mark Visentin but still well short of Calvin Pickard. His 2.95 goals against average is the highest of the four goaltenders on this list while his .905 save percentage is the lowest of the four.
The team's record with Roy in net is a mediocre 12-9 in 21 starts.
But his numbers aren't the only working against Roy. Like JP Anderson, Roy is a slightly undersized goaltender who relies heavily on his reflexes and athleticism to make saves. If Pickard or Visentin earns one of the two goaltending jobs and the final choice comes down to Roy or Anderson for the other job, it's difficult to see Roy beating out Anderson who Cameron employs as his starter during the season in Mississauga.
Roy did have three impressive starts with the AHL Springfield Falcons last spring wherein he posted a 2.57 goals against and a .913 save percentage. He'll still have to emerge as the unmitigated top tender at camp if he wants to beat out the other three.