In the mix to play goalie for the 2011-12 Canada WJC squad are five goalies who currently ply their trade in the CHL. Tyler Bunz, Mark Visentin, Louis Dominigue, Scott Stajcer and Calvin Pickard are the leading candidates for perhaps the toughest position in the sport, and playing it for the host team. Visentin, the incumbent starter who has the most pedigree of the group being an NHL first round draft pick (2010, 27th overall-Phoenix Coyotes), is the likely first string goalie, leaving the other four to compete for the backup position. Let’s take a closer look at the five players.
Visentin currently plays for the Niagara IceDogs of the OHL. After posting a solid 0.917 save percentage and 30 wins last season, Visentin has struggled somewhat this young season with a weaker supporting cast. He’s started 9 games this year, and it seems that the team is planning on limiting his workload. Visentin brings size and technical soundness to the team. Having experienced, and being a main character of, the Canadian collapse last year, he needs to once again prove why he belongs as the number one goalie.
Many people feel that Bunz is the favourite to secure the backup position behind Visentin, in part due to the fact that the tournament is being held in Bunz’s hometown (he’s from St. Albert, a suburb of Edmonton) and that he is a draft pick of the Oilers. He showed a strong performance at the Team Canada Development Camp held at Rexall Place in early August. His game is similar to Visentin’s in that he is a shot blocker as opposed to an athlete. This season with Medicine Hat of the WHL he has played exceptionally well on a strong team; posting a 0.929 save percentage. Team Canada Head Scout and former Oiler Assistant GM Kevin Prendergast was quoted last year as saying that Bunz was the best Canadian goalie in the second half of the season.
Another Phoenix Coyote draft pick (5th round, 138th overall 2010), Dominigue has had a solid final CHL season, sporting a 0.927 save percentage. His style differs from Bunz and Visentin in that he is more of an athlete, and uses his slender frame (6’3, 183 lbs) to his advantage by moving quickly. This style is similar to many goalies who come out of the QMJHL, including last year’s backup on Team Canada Olivier Roy. Many athletic goalies experience erratic play due to their style (which Roy experienced last year), which makes Dominigue a bit of a longshot to make the squad.
Stajcer is a big goalie, checking in at 6’2, 195 lbs. With a solid start to the season for Owen Sound, he still has plenty of work to do in terms of making Team Canada. Rebound control has been an issue for the New York Rangers draft pick. He also has a tendency to let in soft goals and unravel in games. Neither of these traits bode well for him, however with a month left before Selection Camp in Calgary, he still has time to make a solid impression.
Pickard is my pick to be starting the gold medal game if Canada reaches. It’s a very bold prediction considering Pickard, a second round choice of the Colorado Avalanche in 2010 and brother of Nashville Predators prospect Chet Pickard, wasn’t even invited to the Team Canada Development Camp at Rexall Place this past August. Playing on a very poor Seattle Thunderbird team last year where he faced the most number of shots of any CHL goalie, Pickard accumulated a 0.916 save percentage and 27 wins. Technically sound and having stamina, Pickard should make the team barring an unforseen circumstance.
There you have it, Team Canada’s goalie hopefuls for the 2011-12 World Junior Hockey Championships. With selection camp taking place in Calgary in December, there is still time left for these young men to change the minds of Team Canada brass.
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Salim Valji is based in Edmonton AB, writing about all topics hockey for THW. His work has appeared in the Edmonton Journal, Fox Sports and NHL.com. He is credentialled by the WHL and Hockey Canada and attended the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. He will be covering the 2012 IHHF World Junior Hockey Championship for THW.