Tim Wharnsby - Thursday Oct. 3, 2013 15:15

Canada's goaltending no reason for fans to panic

Roberto Luongo and Carey Price give Team Canada solid options


Will Roberto Luongo return as Canada's No. 1 goalie for Sochi? Or will Carey Price snag the role? (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

For hockey fans in Canada, the word crisis has a different definition than in the Oxford Dictionary: “a time of intense difficulty or danger.”

In Canada’s mad hockey world, crisis is closer to panic. And that is exactly what occurred last season following a late-season slump from Carey Price, a poor playoff performance from Marc-Andre Fleury and the uneasiness about whether or not Roberto Luongo can rebound after his demotion to backup status.

All of a sudden Canada had a goaltending crisis on its hand.

Toss in the fact a Canadian-born and bred goalkeeper hasn’t won a Vezina Trophy since Martin Brodeur in 2008 and that of the past four Stanley Cup-winning netminders, the only Canadian is the reigning champ, Chicago Blackhawks’ Corey Crawford.

Canada’s netminding even has been blamed for the lack of gold-medal success at the world junior level in the last four years and other countries like Sweden, Finland and even Switzerland have more high-end depth than Canada in the NHL these days. Wouldn’t the Canadian Olympic team management team like to be in the same predicament as its counterpart in Finland, which will has Pekka Rinne, Tuukka Rask and Antti Niemi to choose from?

Instead, Canadian Olympic team executive director Steve Yzerman will have to put his faith in Luongo and Price, and hope that Crawford, Mike Smith or Braden Holtby step up and enjoy a brilliant first three months to start the NHL season.

But is there really a goaltender crisis in this country? Of the 82 goalies who made appearances in the NHL last season, 35 were Canadians. The next best country was the United States at 14.

Still, you can’t ignore that the Canadian Hockey League, in which 14 European goalies dotted the rosters of its 60 teams, felt compelled enough to protect its home-grown talent and prohibit its member teams from drafting European goalies in the annual import. 

You can’t ignore that the Ontario Hockey League held a Protect the Net summit last June to discuss how better develop talented goalies.

You also can’t ignore that Hockey Canada added Phoenix Coyotes goalie coach Sean Burke, a former Canadian Olympian, to its newly created management team for the Canadian junior program of excellence. “I tell everybody the same thing, I don’t think there is anything wrong with Canadian goaltending,” Burke said. 

“We have extremely solid goaltending. I look at the options we have at the world junior level. The three kids have at the summer camp we have [Zachary] Fucale, [Eric] Comrie or [Jake] Paterson and all three are capable of playing well enough to bring home the goaltending.

“Obviously not winning [the world juniors] the last four years has put a lot more focus on the goaltending. I think the performances haven’t been great in a game here or there, but unfortunately those games have made all the difference in a tournament. It is so easy to dissect that position based on one game or a couple games when everything is on the line.”

There is a theory out there that the goaltender position is no longer cool among kids, that they no longer want to be the next Patrick Roy or Martin Brodeur, but the next Sidney Crosby or Jonathan Toews.Burke doesn’t buy this. When he was younger he idolized Bobby Clarke. But then Burke discovered that he got more ice time as a goalie.

“I do think Patrick Roy has had an influence,” Burke said. “It made kids think that it was neat position and it became more athletic position. It got away from the kid who just didn’t skate well. It was cool to play goal.

“But I don’t think that has changed. It continues to be a position that draws some kids and it continues to be a good position among kids to play.”

Burke played hooky for a day from Coyotes training camp to attend a program of excellence gathering in Kelowna, B.C. Goaltending was a hot topic. The message was there needs to be some sort of standardization and certification process for goalie coaches. 

“A lot of different information has been thrown at these kids. Some good, some not so good,” Burke said. “Some of these young kids are young better off without some of the coaching they get. We need to find a way to control it better.”

Each Monday, Tim Wharnsby will take a look at a different Olympic-hopeful goalie.

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