With all four goaltenders shining, Team Canada faces tough decision in net

“It’s a good problem to have.”

Those were the sentiments of Team Canada’s head coach, Steve Spott, following the Dec. 11 red vs. white game, after all four goaltenders looked worthy of the starting job when Canada begins its quest for gold at the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championships, in Ufa, Russia.

“If we could take all four of them, we would,” Spott said, half-jokingly.

The selection camp, which began on Dec. 11 in Calgary, features the best junior players that Canada has to offer. The four goaltenders who received the prestigious invitation are no exception.

Goalies Jordan Binnington, Laurent Brossoit, Jake Paterson and Malcolm Subban are vying for a spot on the final roster, which will be announced before the weekend. All four goalies have been heavily scouted for the past several months. They are the among the best in their respected leagues, and now must battle for the opportunity to represent Canada in less than two weeks.

Of the four, only three will make Team Canada. Only one will win the starting position.

Wide-open competition

Malcolm Subban makes a blocker save at this week’s selection camp. Subban is fighting for the starting goaltending job for Team Canada’s World Junior team.

Photo by Matt Laurin

After two days of camp, no clear-cut winner has emerged.

“I’ve said from day one, there are four real good goaltenders here. No one has been anointed as starting goaltender so this battle is going to continue to take place,” said Spott, after a 4 – 1 loss to the University of Alberta on Wednesday.

Brossoit and Paterson split time in goal for U of A, while Binnington and Subban shared duties for Team Canada.

“Whoever starts on the 26th, in my mind, is still wide open.”

Like previous camps, there are several interesting battles taking place at each position. For many, including Canada’s goaltending coach Ron Tugnutt, this year’s most intriguing battle is unfolding between the pipes.

“All four of these guys are very comfortable in their abilities, in that they all believe they should be the starter,” said Tugnutt. “In the end, the guy that deserves to play, and the guy that Steve Spott and our staff think gives us the best chance, he’s going to become our starter.”

Tough decision awaits coaching staff

In a country where some kids are on skates from the time they take their first steps, the talent pool of young players is seemingly endless. With so many skilled players to choose from, and such a short window in which to evaluate them, decisions as to who makes the team are never easy ones.

Tugnutt, who played goaltender in the NHL over three different decades, understands how difficult these cuts can be on young players.

“You learn from adversity,” Tugnutt said. “These young guys have never really gone through it. For the most part, all of these guys have made every single team they have tried out for their whole life. This is all new to them too.”

Carrying the weight of a country

When it comes to hockey in this country, most Canadians consider anything besides a gold medal to be a disappointment. If the recent parity in this tournament is any indication, it could easily come down to goaltending.

Brossoit, a sixth-round draft pick by the Calgary Flames, said his only focus at this point is earning a spot on the roster.

“I can’t worry about what the other goalies are doing,” Brossoit said. “We know there is pressure to win, but we’re all just trying to make the team. After that, we can talk about winning.”

Brossoit, who plays his junior hockey up the road for the Edmonton Oil Kings, has been happy with his performance at camp so far.

“I felt good. To be honest, I was in one of those zones where I wanted them to keep coming,” said Brossoit, after turning away 18 of 19 shots Wednesday against U of A.

Meanwhile, Malcolm Subban, who many predicted to win the starting job coming into camp, struggled early on Wednesday, allowing three goals on the first seven shots he faced.

“They got some good shots, and I wasn’t expecting that at all,” Subban said. “I tried to bounce back and thought I did a pretty good job after that.”

“I’ve said from day one, there are four real good goaltenders here. No one has been anointed as starting goaltender so this battle is going to continue to take place.” 

-Steve Spott, Team Canada head coach

Subban, a first-round pick by the Boston Bruins, said he isn’t adding any extra pressure on himself.

“Some guys are good with that, but I’m not. I like to be relaxed and just have fun on the ice.”

One last shot

While the first round of cuts took place on Wednesday night, all four goaltenders are will get one final opportunity to prove themselves on Thursday.

Spott said he would listen to feedback from his coaching staff before making a final decision before the weekend.

The candidates

Jordan Binnington – Owen Sound Attack, Ontario Hockey League

A third-round selection by the St. Louis Blues in 2011, the Ontario native is enjoying his best season in the OHL, posting a 17–6–1–2 record, and an impressive .930 save percentage.

Laurent Brossoit – Edmonton Oil Kings, Western Hockey League

The sixth-round pick by the Calgary Flames led the Edmonton Oil Kings to a WHL Championship last year, where he went 16–4 in the playoffs with a 2.04 goals-against average.

Jake Paterson – Saginaw Spirit, OHL

The youngest of the four goaltenders invited to this year’s selection camp. The Detroit Red Wings selected Paterson in the third round of the 2012 NHL entry draft. He has started 28 games this season with the Spirit, posting an 11–12–3 record.

Malcolm Subban – Belleville Bulls, OHL

The Boston Bruins first-round pick in 2012 was the early favourite to win the starting job. Subban was a standout in August at the Canada-Russia Challenge, a four game exhibition series between junior teams from both countries. He has won 15 of the 26 games he has started this season with the Bulls, maintaining a 2.17 goals-against average.

Decision time

Ultimately, the coaching staff will have to come to a final decision on which goaltender will lead this version of Team Canada. At a camp with so many questions, the only certainty is that the decision will not be an easy one.

“We’re just so lucky to have four guys that deserve the job,” Tugnutt said.

mlaurin@cjournal.ca