Juniors roll the dice

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 12:43 PM ET

PARDUBICE, Czech Republic -- Either way, you could second-guess it.

Had Team Canada head coach Craig Hartsburg gone back to goaltender Jonathan Bernier for today's semifinal against the U.S., you'd wonder about the effect the constant flip-flopping would have, not only on the goalies, but on the whole team.

The fact Hartsburg is sticking with Steve Mason after Mason gave up a shaky goal in the quarter-final raises questions, too.

The truth is, Canada is still looking for one of its stoppers to get hot, and stay that way, in this World Junior Championship.

So Hartsburg would be rolling the dice, either way.

"At this point in the tournament, we don't think it's time to be flip-flopping back and forth," the head coach said yesterday.

"If we start to waver back and forth, both goaltenders are going to suffer for it. Steve will get the job done for us. We said he'd be our guy. We put a lot of trust in him.

"He didn't play his best (against Finland), but we won the hockey game. He'll play better." Hartsburg liked the way Mason handled giving up a brutal goal against the Finns: shrugging it off and saying it happens to the best of them.

The coach and goaltending consultant Corey Hirsch had talks with Mason yesterday before practice in an effort to restore whatever confidence the 19-year-old may have lost.

"I wanted to get right back into the action," Mason said. "For the coaches to put the confidence back in me, it's pretty nice. In a tournament like this, there's so much pressure on the goaltender. It's part of the position. You kind of deal with that, growing up.

"This is going to be the biggest game of my life. But I'm looking forward to playing it."

In order to get Mason feeling as comfortable as possible, the coaches had him decide what kind of drills the team should do yesterday.

The Oakville, Ont., product, a star with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, also worked on communication with his defencemen, critical because he likes to leave his crease to handle the puck.

Defenceman Karl Alzner, Team Canada captain, says recent history should tell us Mason will be fine.

"You go back to the Super Series (last summer), the first game in Russia when he let one in, it was pretty similar," Alzner said.

"And then the rest of the game he stood on his head. We know he can play. He's going to want to prove himself."

The U.S. has no such goalie controversy, as Nashville Predators draft pick Jeremy Smith, an 18-year-old with Plymouth of the OHL, has played all four games, giving up five goals.

For the record, Mason leads the tournament with a 1.00 goals against average and .951 save percentage.


Videos

Photos