Time for Visentin to save Canada

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:14 PM ET

BUFFALO - As a kid, which he still is, Mark Visentin watched intently as Carey Price dominated a shootout at the 2007 world junior hockey championship, beating Team USA, and thus enabling Team Canada to play for gold.

He wasn't sure he would ever get that kind of opportunity himself. He wasn't sure if he was good enough to wear the Canadian uniform.

"I always tried to picture myself making that big save at the end," said Visentin, as any kid does. The memory has never left him and now the opportunity surprisingly arrives.

Almost by acclamation, the 18-year-old Visentin will be the starting goaltender for Team Canada on Monday night in the game against favoured Team USA. He didn't win the job as tournament starter as much as Olivier Roy lost it. And Team Canada will play the Americans in the wrong round of the tournament with a goaltender who began it as a backup.

But head coach Dave Cameron had no choice. Visentin, having beaten Norway and Switzerland, which isn't much to base any kind of determination on, will now be asked to make a difference against the Americans. It is a lot to ask. But really, what else could Cameron do?

"I try to explain to the average person watching that these kids are experiencing pressure that they've never experienced before," said Ron Tugnutt, the former NHL goalie who is Team Canada's goalie coach. "There's going to be some butterflies. There's going to be mistakes. What I'm looking for is how they fight through them.

"You have to understand, the pressure just to make the team for these kids is intense. And the pressure to perform well and try and win a gold medal is even more intense. I'm very happy with the way Mark performed today.

The day didn't start well for Visentin. Sixty nine seconds into the most important international game of his life, he forgot to fasten his right skate to the post and allowed the kind of goal that makes coaches, players and just about everybody else watching, cringe. It was a horrible beginning for Visentin. A "beer league" goal, it was described by coach Cameron.

"There's no rewind button," said the goalie. "I couldn't do anything about it but play the rest of the game."

He played the rest of the game, occasionally fighting the puck, dropping pucks he should have caught with his glove, appearing jumpy to an outsider, but not necessarily that to Tugnutt. It was a hold-your-breath kind of appearance in a game that shouldn't have been about holding your breath.

"A lot of the game, it was 1-1 and a lot of the game it was 2-1 and there was all kinds of pressure on him to not let in the next goal," said Tugnutt. "You watch to see if he's building some kind of momentum. It's good for him to be a in game like that. That's what I call good pressure."

Visentin is one of those good news stories about Canadian hockey. He watched the world juniors on television, set it as a goal. He wasn't highly rated at 15 or 16 but he just kept growing, working, getting bigger and better.

"His growth spurt in his game over the past 14 months has just skyrocketed," said Tugnutt. "Going into his draft year, he wasn't even on the radar. Then he was the second goalie taken." The first goalie taken, Jack Campbell, will be in goal for the Americans on Monday.

That's the competition. This is the game of games for Team Canada. It was supposed to be for gold.

Now it's time for Visentin to enter the national stage and maybe leave behind his own mark on Canadian hockey. Something more than what happened against the Swiss - when an the official's error and Visentin's judgment saw him race from the Canadian net on what he believed was a delayed penalty against Switzerland./

There was a penalty. It wasn't against Canada.

"I just gave my head a shake," said Visentin, who saw Canada with the puck and the referee's arm in the air. "That would have been brutal for us if they had scored."

With that, and the weak opening goal behind him, there is the game Monday to head for gold and create a reputation.

"It's a normal game," said Visentin, lying only ever so slightly.

He will warm up the same as always, shout the dressing room chants the Team Canada players shout, go through the secret handshakes and pre-game routines.

"It's the same as every other game," the kid goalie said. "Just different."

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/simmonssteve


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