Four goalies form the foundation at Memorial Cup

Michael Houser of the London Knights during a practice session in preparation for the Memorial Cup...

Michael Houser of the London Knights during a practice session in preparation for the Memorial Cup at the Gilles Bourassa arena in Shawinigan Quebec, Thursday May 17, 2012. (QMI Agency/Didier Debusschere)

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:41 PM ET

SHAWINIGAN, QUE. - Across the street from Centre Bionest where the Memorial Cup is being played, workers are in the process of tearing up Jacques Plante Arena, named in honour of the legendary Montreal Canadiens goaltender who was first to protect his face.

Every netminder at the junior hockey tournament this week can commiserate with the fate of the ancient 75-year-old rink. Crease confidence is always under threat from the proverbial wrecking ball of pressure.

It's how you get a situation where the host Shawinigan Cataractes, who had a month off between games, finally told 17-year-old Alex Dubeau on Thursday he would start the Cup opener the following night.

Picking the puckstopper is not to be taken lightly.

Edmonton's Laurent Brossoit, who said he used "to be a head case" letting losses linger longer than they should, pulled himself together to guide the Western league's Oil Kings to the Cup.

"You need a short-term memory," the 19-year-old Calgary Flames prospect said. "You can't let things bother you. I try to keep an even keel. Last year, I basically split games with (fellow Surrey, B.C., veteran Jon Groenheyde).

"I worked hard all summer. Then, I took over."

Entering the Cup's opener Friday night, Brossoit had played a staggering 81 regular-season and playoff games -- the same number as London Knights workhorse Michael Houser.

Three years ago, the Knights signed Houser, a Wexford, Pa., native, as a free agent.

He was passed over twice in the NHL draft, snubbed by USA Hockey and had to fend off world junior gold medallist Igor Bobkov for the starting job last year, but it hardly made a dent in his resolve.

This season, he was selected the OHL's most outstanding player and the top goalie while becoming London's career wins leader.

"I don't know anything about the other goalies, you don't get much of a chance to see the other leagues," the 19-year-old said. "But I'm interested in seeing them play. I heard that (Brossoit matched his game log). I had a good off-season and tried to get stronger and with our backup situation (second-round pick Ian Jenkins died following a truck accident, and the Knights made two more trades to bring in help), I knew I had to be prepared if I was asked play a lot of games."

In many of those tests, he drew his fuel from the goalie at the other end of the ice. That's not so much the case here.

"Of course, when I went up against a (Jack) Campbell or (John) Gibson during the (OHL) season, you looked at it as motivation," Houser said. "But when you're at the Cup, if you can't get up for this then you really shouldn't be playing this sport."

The most underrated Cup goalie is likely the first one Houser's London team will face Saturday night -- Saint John's lanky overager Mathieu Corbeil.

He has a Cup ring from last spring, but he served largely as a backup to graduated Jacob DeSerres. This season, his numbers are outstanding, but so is the team in front of him.

"Jake did a great job last year, he had a great playoff run, and I was ready when called on and I was a couple of times," Corbeil said. "This year, I just tried to focus on doing my job. This is the opportunity you want as a goalie and I'm trying to make the most of it."

The team with the best goalie doesn't necessarily always win the Cup -- but he'll give you a chance. Most of the coaches here echo the way London general manager/coach Mark Hunter feels about Houser.

"I would have to see the Western and Quebec goalies (in person) before deciding (who's the best of the bunch)," Hunter said. "But Houser is the best goalie in the OHL, he proved that, and that's a big reason we're here."

The four goalies have something in common.

To a man, they admire Carey Price of Montreal and also Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury -- Dubeau has worked with him in Sorel and the Stanley Cup winner plays for Houser's hometown Penguins.

All of them are in the same boat. They play the most important and demanding position on the ice.

And if they're off their game, their team could be facing the same inevitable end as the arena named for Jacques Plante.

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A comparison of the four starting goaltenders in the 2012 Memorial Cup:

London: Michael Houser. OHL's most outstanding player and top goalie, 19-year-old from Wexford, Pa., tied league record for most wins.

Regular season: 62 games, 45-15-0-1, 2.47 goals-against average, .926 save percentage, six shutouts.

Playoffs: 19 games, 16-2-1, 2.25 GAA, .928 save percentage, one shutout.

Saint John: Mathieu Corbeil. Backup for Memorial Cup champs last year, big 20-year-old Montreal native was a Columbus Blue Jackets fourth-round pick.

Regular season: 48 games, 37-10-0-1, 2.38 GAA, .911 save percentage, six shutouts.

Playoffs: 17 games, 16-0-1, 2.18 GAA, .917 save percentage, one shutout.

Shawinigan: Alex Dubeau. Told he would start Cataractes' opening game Thursday night, 17-year-old from Mascouche, Que., is 5-foot-9, 152 pounds.

Regular season: 40 games, 25-9-2-2, 2.56 GAA, .904 save percentage, three shutouts.

Playoffs: Seven games, 3-3-1, 2.08 GAA, .919 save percentage.

Edmonton: Laurent Brossoit. Coming-out party this year, 19-year-old from Surrey, B.C., is a Calgary Flames sixth-rounder.

Regular season: 61 games, 42-13-2-3, 2.47 GAA, .914 save percentage, three shutouts.

Playoffs: 20 games, 16-4, 2.04 GAA, .933 save percentage, two shutouts.

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ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/RyanatLFPress


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