Canada’s goaltending debate will continue for at least another couple of days.
In naming Scott Wedgewood as his starter for Saturday night’s game against the U.S. at the world junior hockey championship, Canadian coach Don Hay split four preliminary round games equally between goalies Wedgewood and Mark Visentin.
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Heading into Saturday’s game, Canada had already clinched first in Pool B and a bye to the semifinals, while the U.S. already knew they were heading to the relegation round.
Had their game meant anything in the standings, the decision to go with Wedgewood would have had more significance.
The stakes will be much higher in Tuesday’s semifinal in Calgary. A win has the host country playing for gold. A loss would mark the first time in a decade Canada didn’t make the final.
“These games are going to get a lot more intense and they mean a lot more now so you’re going to go with the people you think are going to give you a chance to have success,” Hay said near the end of the preliminary round. “We feel both goalies give us that right now.
“We want that. We want competition and competition is a good thing. It makes both goalies better. It makes our team better and it makes the coach have sleepless nights and have some tough decisions to make.”
Hay pointed out he used both goaltenders when he coached Canada to gold at the 1995 world junior hockey championship in Red Deer, Alta. Jamie Storr played four games and Dan Cloutier three.
But the tournament was a round-robin format back then with no final or semifinals. Canada had already won the gold medal when Cloutier went in net for their last game against Sweden.
Hay’s practice is to inform his starting goaltender the night before the game and not make it public until game day. So that’s two days to speculate and debate on which goalie should play in Canada’s net in the medal round.
Not only does the performance of goaltenders become magnified as the tournament gets down to the final four, but their demeanour is net is also a matter of dissection.
An outwardly confident goalie makes the skaters in front of him play with more confidence.
Visentin’s 24-save contributions in both an 8-1 win over the Finns to open the tournament and the 10-2 thrashing of Denmark were overshadowed by Canada’s offensive output in those games.
Wedgewood was more of factor in Canada’s 5-0 win over the Czech Republic. Leading 1-0 late in the second period, Canada looked for the important second goal to weaken the will of the Czechs.
Wedgewood sent a long pass up to his forwards which generated that goal. The Plymouth Whaler got an assist to go with his 26-save shutout. Rexall Place chanted his name following the game.
“Since coming here, I think it’s probably the best hockey I’ve been able to play in my career so far,” the New Jersey Devils prospect said later. “To stay calm in front of a crowd like that was kind of hard at times.
“Obviously to start would be unbelievable in a tournament like this. It’s definitely important for me to try and get that for myself. Definitely the most important thing is the team winning.”
Visentin is the goaltender with previous experience in this tournament. The Niagara IceDog was chosen Canada’s starter for the medal round of the 2011 world junior championship in Buffalo, N.Y.
The Phoenix Coyotes prospect made 22 saves in a 4-1 semifinal win over the U.S., after stopping 21 in a 4-1 quarter-final victory over Switzerland. After two periods in the championship game against Russia, Visentin was working on a shutout.
What happened next is well documented as the Russians poured five goals into Canada’s net. All the blame can’t be laid at Visentin’s feet, but the goaltender was unable to produce the heroics needed to wrest momentum back to Canada.
Hay said through Canada’s selection camp he considered Visentin his number one goalie, but that he also planned to play both goalies during the tournament.
Wedgewood declared coming out selection camp he wanted the No. 1 job. Hay’s decision to start him against the Czechs – Canada’s second game of the tournament — gave Wedgwood the chance to compete for it.
“I won’t say I feel pressure,” Visentin said. “It kind of motivates me to work hard and just stay focused.
“I hope it’s a tough decision. I think myself and Wedgie have done a great job. The biggest thing for Wedge and I is to keep things positive on the team and be the same way we’ve been the past week.”
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