West is the best

Currently sporting the best GAA in the CHL, Medicine Hat goalie Kevin Nastiuk is leading a trend of...

Currently sporting the best GAA in the CHL, Medicine Hat goalie Kevin Nastiuk is leading a trend of great WHL goalies. (Calgary Sun File Photo)

ANGELA MacISAAC -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:08 AM ET

This should be the Year of the Dub.

For the first time since 1991, a WHL goalie is the top contender to backstop Team Canada at the World Junior Championship, set for Dec. 25-Jan. 4 at Grand Forks, N.D., and Thief River Falls, Minn.

In fact, you could see a 1-2 Western punch.

But it's been a long 14 years since Trevor Kidd led the Baby Nats to gold in Saskatoon.

"For a while, it has been dominated by Quebec goalies," said Medicine Hat Tigers netminder Kevin Nastiuk.

"It's kind of nice. We have a lot of talented goalies in the west."

Nastiuk, an Edmonton product, is the guy everyone is watching. He has logged seven shutouts in the WHL and sports the nation's best goals-against average, a stingy 1.35, while leading his team to a 16-4-2 record.

"All of Canada has always produced strong goaltending," said Nastiuk, a fourth-round, 126th overall pick by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2003. "It's been back and forth through the years. For the last seven or eight years, it has been dominated by Quebec goalies and the west hasn't been given that much recognition."

Nastiuk is the top contender but other WHLers are nipping at his heels. Seattle Thunderbird Bryan Bridges of Victoria, B.C., has six shutouts and a 1.39 GAA.

Jeff Glass, the Kootenay Ice goalie from Cochrane, has his team first in the Western Conference. He has two goose-eggs and a 1.69 GAA.

Even Rejean Beauchemin of the struggling Prince Albert Raiders has a chance, deemed by Team Canada head coach Brent Sutter as the best goalie at summer camp.

Then there's Devan Dubnyk, the Kamloops Blazers starter.

A Calgarian, Dubnyk went to national-team summer camp but hasn't had the best start to his season. The Blazers are off to a rocky beginning, a 7-15-2 record that's good for last in the B.C. Division.

But even in the midst of a three-game losing streak, Dubnyk isn't giving up. He gave his team as good a chance as he could in Sunday's 4-1 loss to the Rockets, stopping 40 shots.

"The team is struggling a bit," said Dubnyk, the 14th overall draft pick by the Edmonton Oilers in June. "For myself, I've been working on finding a way to be consistent every night.

"It's been tough but one of my biggest goals was to be able to focus night in and night out."

With more consistent play lately, he still has a shot at going to training camp in Winnipeg, Dec. 12-16. The camp roster will be announced Dec. 6.

"There's still lots of time for anybody," said Blair Mackasey, Hockey Canada head scout.

"We have some ideas on things but we have to be patient."


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