Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Big Concerns in Goal for Canada

"We're not very comfortable with where we are right now with our goaltending situation" - Kevin Prendergast (Head Scout - Hockey Canada)

We are one week away from finding out who will receive invitations to Hockey Canada's December WJC selection camp in Calgary and as of now, the picture between the pipes is incredibly hazy.

Head scout Kevin Prendergast was a guest on The Pipeline Show this past Saturday and didn't sugar coat a thing when it came to talking about the choices of netminders available for the 2012 WJC team.

The Subway Super Series is a great tool for Hockey Canada to get a read on several players across the country, including many that weren't invited to take part in the summer development camp. Goaltending has often been a concern for Canada leading up to the World Junior Championship and it appears as though it will be again this year.

After 3 months of regular season CHL play and the series against Russia, I asked Prendergast to comment on whether he's seen enough to have a top two or top four list in mind.

"There's a lot to be decided there Guy to be honest with you," said Prendergast, "We're not very comfortable with where we are right now with our goaltending situation. I don't think any of them have been outstanding over the course of the year."

The incumbent is Mark Visentin (PHX) who finished the 2011 WJC for Canada after Olivier Roy (EDM) struggled with his game. This season has not gone well at all for the Coyotes pick although Prendergast was hopeful that things were turning around.

"Visentin, from our standpoint, has gone back-to-back shutouts in the OHL so hopefully he's finding his game," he said. Unfortunately the Niagara keeper was yanked less than 7 minutes into his next game after giving up three goals on four shots.

Right now, Visentin's stats are horrible, especially when compared to the rest of the OHL; a 3.06 GAA (14th), .888 sv% (26th) and 6 wins (17th). To his credit, four of his six victories have come by way of shutout.

Scott Wedgewood (NJ) was the other OHL goalie at the summer camp and his numbers are better than Visentin's but not really stellar either. J.P. Anderson (SJ) was at last year's December camp but his performance against the Russians earlier this month probably moved him out of the picture according to our CHL Insider Sam Cosentino of Sportsnet.

The QMJHL representative at August's summer camp was Louis Domingue (PHX) has excellent stats this year (2.24 GAA, .933 sv%) but is splitting games with a 17-year-old rookie. From an outside perspective, if Domingue isn't Quebec's clear cut #1, how can he be Canada's?

I thought that a couple of Western League guys might play their way into the picture but the struggles of Everett and Seattle probably mean bad things for Kent Simpson (CHI) and Calvin Pickard (COL).

The only goalie on the radar who has captured a CHL Goalie of the Week Award thus far this season is Medicine Hat keeper Tyler Bunz (EDM). The St. Albert product has a 2.58 GAA and .922 sv%. Tough luck for Bunz though, he didn't get to strut his stuff against the Russians after being hit in the face by a puck in Game 5 while sitting on the bench as the back up.

"I think maybe Bunz has been the most consistent goaltender," Prendergast suggested, "It's unfortunate that he didn't get to play [in the Subway Super Series] but it is fortunate that he's still alive considering where he was hit by that puck. It was a slap shot right off the temple but we know that he'll be OK."

Fortunately, he's taken part in several Hockey Canada camps over the last few years and with the organization being based in Calgary, seeing the WHL netminder on a regular basis hasn't been difficult.

"Tyler is high on our list of players, he certainly had a good camp with us."

So you have to think that when it comes to selection camp invitations, it's looking good for Bunz and for Visentin simply due to his 2011 WJC experience. But beyond that it is much tougher to project.

"We've had trouble with the rest of the goaltenders," Prendergast stated, "It's just not a great crop of goaltenders within the country and it's something that I think as an organization that we're going to have to address over the next little while."

What that means is unclear but one has to wonder if there is a wild card out there that could be a huge surprise December invite. It wouldn't be the first time that a spot went to a previously unheralded guy - think of Calgary Hitmen keeper Martin Jones a couple of years ago for example.

Maybe what Hockey Canada has to do is turn over more stones, beat the bushes even harder and look waaaaay off the radar. Maybe so far as to even consider and American.

Statistically speaking, the top netminder in the CHL right now is Tri-City Americans goalie Ty Rimmer. The 19-year-old from Edmonton leads the entire country in both goals against average (1.77) and save percentage (.941). No question, Rimmer's name and Hockey Canada have probably never appeared in the same sentence but there is no denying that he's had a strong 2011-12 campaign.

With four camp slots reserved for pipemen, maybe the answer to Hockey Canada's goalie question will be found by looking outside the box.

(Photos: Andy Devlin / Hockey Canada)

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