Tending to Canada's goalie crisis

Team Russia's Yevgeni Kuznetsov scores on Team Canada's goalie goalie Scott Wedgewood, from...

Team Russia's Yevgeni Kuznetsov scores on Team Canada's goalie goalie Scott Wedgewood, from Brampton, Ont., during the semifinal of the 2012 IIHF U20 World Junior Hockey Championship in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday. (QMI Agency)

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:52 PM ET

LONDON, ONT. - It's growing tiresome watching Canada get out-goaltended at the world junior hockey tournament.

That's three straight years now.

But it's too easy to simply declare a puckstopping state of emergency, toss teens Scott Wedgewood and Mark Visentin under the bus, wail about how Canada hasn't produced an elite-level goalie since Carey Price and worry about what's going to happen in net at the next Olympics.

The dramatic 6-5 semifinal loss to Russia Tuesday in Calgary merely underlines that every country is in the same kind of goaltending boat, but we better start to steer ours better.

Just look at how Canada was beaten in Saskatoon, Buffalo, and now Calgary. Each of those golden elimination games, the opposition yanked their starting goalie -- and won.

That's how the names of those clutch backups -- Jack Campbell, Igor Bobkov and now Andrey Makarov -- were first burned into our puck-loving brains.

Heck, these Russians felt comfortable most of the time with a 17-year-old in net for an under-20 tournament. So no one's calling them a goaltending factory these days.

But Russian head coach Valeri Bragin made another masterful move by doing what Canada's Dave Cameron should've last year in Buffalo -- pulled his starter before the lead was lost and, in the process, woke up some of his sleepy players.

It was a gutsy call, and it worked.

Canada, once again, didn't have a clear-cut No. 1 in net.

It went into the medal game without a loss -- and still had to fend off a goalie controversy with the experienced Visentin passed over for the start in a game he had wanted for a calendar year.

Such is the kind of scrutiny that surrounds this team, especially when the tournament is on home ice.

Hockey Canada creates an environment, starting with the selection camp, in which everything is so ramped up, each practice is so intense and with meaningless exhibition games sold out and televised. The players get amped before the tournament even starts.

It's comparable to a sugar high. It's awfully hard to sustain the same energy level for over two weeks. It's an especially tough atmosphere for goalies and there's bound to be a crash at some point.

And it came at the worst possible time, with a near-storybook comeback glossing over the hard-to-stomach reality that a team like Canada had fallen behind 6-1 in the first place.

Sure, there hasn't been a Patrick Roy-like talent in Canadian garb for some time.

And it's a little startling that in the 20-team Ontario Hockey League where Wedgewood and Visentin play, half of the starting netminders are non-Canadians.

But the problem isn't so much in numbers of goalies or their development.

Nine of the top 10 goalies from the Quebec league are from that province. British Columbia leads the way in producing its stoppers in the Western league.

There are plenty of kids from coast to coast who don the pads, rise to the AAA ranks and play in the Hockey Canada program. There are lots of instructors who fill their schools with budding goalies.

Stars just don't come around all the time, and in the goalie trade, it takes a special person to last in the game for several years.

The odds of producing a Sidney Crosby are way better than a Terry Sawchuk, because there are five skaters on a team at one time, and only one goaltender.

But you don't always need a star in net to win the world juniors. You need someone to rise to the occasion.

Canada hasn't had it happen in a while.

Pressure isn't always power.

E-mail ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca or follow RyanatLFPress on Twitter.


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