Whenever there is international competition, there is bound to be some controversy.
Hockey is no different, in fact in junior hockey it might even be more abundant. For example: the ongoing saga of Hockey Canada punishing Canadian hockey fans with their ticket prices. Not typically what one does to show one’s appreciation.
But if it’s possible to have a positive controversy, then Canada has one. It would seem they have 2 excellent goaltenders in Zach Fucale and Eric Comrie and are having a hard time deciding who the No.1 goalie will be.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s a nice problem to have. I’ll take it over most of the controversies I hear in regards to pro athletes any day. They just have to be careful it doesn’t turn into a bigger issue.
Our Goalies At A Glance
On paper there isn’t much difference between them. Fucale is a coveted draft choice of the Montreal Canadiens and was a standout on the Halifax Mooseheads before a recent trade to the Quebec Remparts. He’s the Moosehead’s all-time leader in wins and in 2013-14 won the Jacques Plante Memorial trophy for the best goals against average in the QMJHL.
Eric Comrie is expected to become a big part of the Winnipeg Jets in the near future. He has been a star on the Tri-City Americans for several seasons and has won a gold medal playing for Team Canada at the 2013 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament.
Both played at least 50 games in 2013-14 and had at least .900 save percentages. Both were taken in the 2nd round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. And both are known for being calm and collected, playing with the maturity of an older player, which is fairly important when you are playing goal for Canada in an international tournament.
And possibly most importantly, both goalies have the reputation as being decent people among their teammates and off the ice, an often overlooked quality that has a big impact on a player’s development.
But coming into this World Junior tournament, I thought Fucale had a definite edge for a couple of reasons. In 2013 he won a Memorial Cup and was a Memorial Cup all-star. In addition, he played for the World Junior team last year in Sweden. When two goaltenders are as evenly matched as these two appear to be, experience becomes very valuable, and Fucale has a bit more than Comrie in some high pressure environments.
A Downside To Waiting
Regardless of any edge one or the other may have, here we are about to play the 4th game and Comrie will get the start on New Year’s Eve, continuing the rotation approach. This start, as you are likely aware, is against chief rival USA, in what is easily the biggest game of the tournament so far. Typically, the goalie playing the USA game is the established starter, but there has been no statement yet saying Comrie is officially the No.1 guy.
In most tournaments previous to this one, Canada has ridden one goalie all the way. In this tournament the plan seems to be to let both goalies play 2 games and pick the one who has played the best. I like the idea of both goalies playing a game each, if for no other reason than to have both get some playing time in case the starter gets injured.
But splitting 4 games is unusual. There is a lot of merit in having the starter fully established by now, especially before the game against the Americans, so that the team can get settled and the goalie can get some momentum.
As it stands now that isn’t the case, and instead the team heads into its most important game with a degree of uncertainty in its midst.
There are a lot of people, fans and commentators alike, who are perplexed by the approach Canada’s coaching staff has taken in regards to the goaltending situation, and for good reason. Finishing first in your pool is extremely important in this tournament, it means you get to play a much easier team, like Denmark, in your quest for a championship. Lose and you probably play Russia. If you look at past tournaments, it is rare that the team who has the harder schedule wins the gold medal, largely due to a compressed schedule.
Make The Tough Choice
Fucale and Comrie both have their share of supporters, which is fine. And you can argue that how they have played for their respective teams, even this season, is somewhat irrelevant, the starter should be whomever is playing the best, right now, in this tournament.
It’s a solid theory, you could make a lot of arguments to back it up. But whatever Canada is going to do, they have to do it after the USA game with confidence and commitment. This problem is a nice problem to have, but they have to act quickly to keep it from becoming a distraction.