Thursday, December 15, 2011

OHL - The New Goalie Factory


There are 10 different nations represented in the World Junior Championship but nearly half of the goaltenders expected to be on those roster will come from teams based in the Canadian Hockey League. Is the CHL, and more specifically the Ontario Hockey League, becoming the new place for goaltenders to develop?

Here's a look at the CHLers from around the globe.

Not surprisingly, both of Canada's goaltenders come from the CHL. If not for the injury to Sam Brittain (FLA) of the Denver Pioneers, the Calgary native may have challenged that ratio but he won't be back until late January so unable to help Canada.

Mark Visentin (PHX) of the Niagara IceDogs isn't a shocker to be back with Canada after he finished the 2011 WJC in the starter spot after cleaning up from Olivier Roy (EDM). His partner in Alberta starting Boxing Day will be Scott Wedgewood (NJ) who definitely played his way onto the roster. The Plymouth Whalers keeper is 9-1 in his last 10 OHL games but having given up at least 3 goals in seven of those contests, he's clearly getting goal support from his teammates.

Casual fans who will watch the World Junior Championship on TV but aren't followers of junior hockey might be surprised to learn that both netminders for USA also call the CHL home.

Jack Campbell (DAL) will be at his third WJC and he's been a focal point in each of the past two years. Like Visentin, Campbell became the main man as the 2010 event went on and Mike Lee (PHX) struggled. Earlier this season he was dealt from the Windsor Spitfires to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Most people would suggest that with Campbell returning once again, USA probably has the top netminder in the tournament.

Campbell's support man is pretty darn good too. John Gibson (ANH) plays for the Kitchener Rangers and after 21 games still sports a .933 sv%. He might only see action against Denmark or the Czechs, or not at all, but he's a high caliber goaltender in his own right - good enough to be a starter on probably two thirds of the other teams in the event.

Like Campbell, Gibson spent time with USA Hockey's excellent U17 and U18 program based in Ann Arbor Michigan that now plays in the USHL. And also like Campbell, when his time was up with the US-NTDP, he detoured off from his NCAA path and steered his career to the OHL.

Two other countries may decide to use a CHL goaltender as their starter when the WJC begins on Boxing Day. Certainly that is what most believe the Czech Republic will do as they have finally agreed to let Petr Mrazek (DET) play for them in the tournament. Politics and red tape has meant that this will be the first year that the 19-year-old gets to do so and it should mean a lot to the team. Mrazek has been considered one of the best goalies in the OHL over the last couple of seasons. HIs Ottawa 67's are contenders again this year in no small part because of his 16-7-3 record. This is the Vitkovice product's third year in Ontario, all with the 67's.

Sweden hasn't declared their final roster as of yet but one of the three netminders is Johan Mattsson (CHI) of the Sudbury Wolves. He's clearly the starter in Sudbury but we don't no for certain if Mattsson is even on the final Swedish roster but for the purpose of this story, it's worth mentioning that like they did with Robin Lehner (OTT) last year from the Soo Greyhounds, they could pluck from the OHL once again.

There's another Gibson who will likely be a factor at the 2012 WJC and that's Christopher Gibson, the Finnish goaltender with the name from Saskatchewan and the accent from Quebec. Gibson learned to speak English playing at Notre Dame in Wilcox Saskatchewan and then added a French accent over the last couple years in Chicoutimi where he stops pucks for the Saguenéens. Finland still has four netminders on their list but it stands to reason that Gibson has an excellent chance of being one of the two goalies for Suomi.

We broke the news a few weeks ago that Saskatoon Blades goalie Andrey Makarov will be one of the two Russian goalies at the WJC this year, at least that's the impression he's under after bring told as much from coach Valeri Bragin. Although it's Makarov's first year in the WHL with the Blades, it's actually his second season in the CHL. The Kazan keeper played for the now defunct Lewiston Maineiacs of the QMJHL until they disbanded this past summer. During our conversation it was Makarov who hit on the reason why he and so many other European goalies are looking to the CHL as the league they should play in.

"It's good for me, 40 shots every game, it's good practice for me," he said. Makarov also said that the stereotype of the QMJHL being a much more offensive league and the WHL being so tight defensively is just that; a stereotype. "No... not the case. In Quebec I face 25, 30 shots in a game but here it's 40-43. It's really good for me."

Patrik Bartosak of the Red Deer Rebels didn't make the shortlist for the Czech Republic which is a moot point now that he's injured and done for the season. Still, he talked to us about why he also chose to come to the Canadian Hockey League.

There are a number of others in the CHL who hold passports not bearing a maple leaf. Moncton Wildcats import Roman Will and David Honzik (VAN) from Victoriaville are both Czech born, CHL developed goalies. American Anthony Terenzio wears a Halifax jersey.

German Mathias Niederberger plays in Barrie for the Colts, Matej Machovsky is in his second OHL season but now with Brampton. Erie's Ramis Sadikov is Russian as is former WJC goalie Igor Bobkov (ANH), now with Kingston. Garret Sparks is an American in Guelph and many thought that London goalie Michael Houser deserved a look from USA. You can add Matt Mahalak (CAR) to that list as well; he's from Michigan just like Brandon Hope from the Sarnia Sting. John Cullen has played for four different OHL teams but calls USA his home.

Out West, the Swift Current Broncos and Vancouver Giants both chose European goalies in the CHL import draft and hoped to have them on their rosters this year. Norwegian Steffen Soberg (WSH) actually practiced with the Broncos before bailing but Jonathan Iilahti (VAN) didn't even get that close for the Giants.

Mike Comrie has ties to Alberta but he's from California and moved from there to Tri-City to play with the Americans in the WHL. Mac Carruth (CHI) was a USA summer WJC camp invite last year.

Some other recent examples include Juha Metsola and Riku Helenius, German Phillip Grubauer, Robert Mayer and Lukas Flueler from Switzerland.

We used to talk about different countries as being the sources for goaltenders. Finland was once known as the goaltending factory. For a long time it was the French-Canadian trained guys getting the looks.

Is it fair to now think of leagues in that same way? Rather than describing Finland as the hot goalie market, might it make more sense to say that the CHL is the place to find your goalie these days?


Eetu Huisman said...

"Finland still has four netminders on their list but it stands to reason that Gibson has an excellent chance of being one of the two goalies for Suomi."

Make that three, since Jonathan Iilahti was cut on Thursday (as was defenseman Joonas Valkonen). Finland now only has one extra player for each position left.

I'm pretty certain Gibson and Avalanche prospect Sami Aittokallio will be the goaltending duo for Team Finland, leaving Richard Ullberg the odd man out.

On defense, the last cut will most likely be either Miro Hovinen or Julius Nyqvist (it should be Konsta Mäkinen but he's a personal favorite of the head coach Raimo Helminen), the last forward to go will be either Petteri Halinen, Roope Hämäläinen or Miro Aaltonen.

Drew Balen said...

The reason the CHL is producing and attracting high quality goaltenders due to the fact that the CHL lifestyle closely resembles that of an NHL player from coaching received to style of play. The CHL is the top development league for a reason.

Guy Flaming said...

@Etu - Thanks for the update.

@ Drew - Right, that was the point made by both Makarov and Bartosak.