The statistics don’t always tell the full story, particularly when it comes to goaltending excellence at the IIHF World U20 Championship.
For instance, Russia’s Alexei Volkov, who backstopped his country to gold in 1999 and silver in 2000, holds the all-time tournament records for best career GAA (1.42) and longest shutout streak (215:09). The 30-year-old from Yekaterinburg has gone on to a respectable journeyman career in the KHL, but nobody is likely to cite any one World U20 performance of his as legendary.
Similarly, Tomas Duba, who earned two gold medals (2000, 2001) with the Czech Republic, still boasts the single-tournament record for most wins (7) from 2001. Yet since the Prague native didn’t actually play in the 2000 tournament and benefited from a radically tight-checking defensive system in 2001 en route to his 1.14 GAA and 94.7 save percentage, he also doesn’t generally bring tears of nostalgia to the eyes of World U20 fans.
The reality is that the goaltenders we remember best are almost invariably “thrown to the wolves” at a key point in the tournament, forced to save their teams singlehandedly from otherwise certain defeat. At the U20 level, at least, that scenario has rarely played out with Russian, Czech, or Swedish teams. But there are other nations who have relied heavily on power between the pipes.
Here’s IIHF.com’s list of the top five goaltending performances in World Junior history.
Facing Russian snipers Alexander Mogilny and Sergei Fedorov in their youth was always a daunting prospect, but even more so on Moscow ice. That’s the challenge that awaited goalie Jimmy Waite in Canada’s New Year’s Day showdown with the Soviet Union to determine first place in the standings.
Although Mogilny would finish the tournament with 18 points in seven games and claim an all-star berth, he was held pointless versus Waite, as was Fedorov. The Canadians won 3-2 despite being outshot 40-16. “If it wasn’t for Jimmy, it might have been 12-3 for them instead of 3-2 for us,” said teammate Theoren Fleury of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens netminder’s godlike play.
Although Waite never established himself as an NHL regular, he had a long, respected career in Germany.
The Swiss had never won a World U20 medal before, so claiming bronze in 1998 was a monumental achievement. And it wouldn’t have been possible without David Aebischer’s miraculous run in the crease in Helsinki. The Fribourg native grabbed everyone’s attention by tying Russia 3-3, and then added two shootout wins, 2-1 over Sweden in the quarterfinals and 4-3 over the Czechs in the bronze medal game, to make history.
Even though Aebischer made four straight saves in the third-place shootout, he interestingly felt that another game was his best: “I think against the Swedes, that was really special. In the second period, we had to kill off a 5-on-3 Swedish power play, and Julien Vauclair did a great job on defence – he played a little bit later on for Ottawa. Somehow, over the course of two minutes, we kept the puck out of the net. We scored with about two minutes left in the game to tie it, and then it ended up in a shootout that went to nine or ten shooters. So we won it, and it was special, because I think that was my biggest win in the World Juniors.”
Aebischer’s hopes of becoming a true successor to the legendary Patrick Roy in Colorado didn’t pan out. But he did register another international sensation when he helped Switzerland beat the Czechs 3-2 at the 2006 Turin Olympics. Today, at age 32, he continues to play for Lugano in the Swiss National League A.
In the NHL, only five players who lost in the Stanley Cup final have ever won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, and that includes four goalies: Roger Crozier (1966), Glenn Hall (1968), Ron Hextall (1987), and Jean-Sébastien Giguère (2003).
It was similar with Roberto Luongo, who was named Best Goalie and cracked the tournament all-star team even though Canada lost 3-2 in overtime to a superior Russian team in the final in Winnipeg.
Doug Risebrough, a four-time Stanley Cup champion with Montreal, said of Luongo’s heroics: “That was the best goaltending performance that I’d ever seen.” Outshot 40-18, Canada finally broke when Artyom Chubarov fired a perfect shot inside Luongo’s left post at 5:13 of OT.
However, the starting goalie of the Vancouver Canucks has replaced international heartbreak with exultation in the years since. Luongo won Worlds gold with Team Canada in 2003 and 2004, and backstopped his nation to gold on home ice at the 2010 Olympics.
Even Boston Bruins fans who don’t follow international hockey wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Tuukka Rask’s magic once got Finland a bronze medal it really had no business winning.
In the quarterfinal versus Sweden in Vancouver, Rask stoned Nicklas Bäckström and Johannes Salmonsson repeatedly, posting 53 saves en route to a 1-0 OT shutout. “I was really tired after the game, very tired,” said Rask, which wasn’t surprising since the Finns played a passive defensive style. Swedish coach Torgny Bendelin described it as “maybe the toughest loss in my career”.
Rask, who swept the tournament goaltending honours, capped things off by beating the Americans 4-2 for bronze. Currently, the 23-year-old Savonlinna product gives Boston arguably the NHL’s top goalie tandem along with Tim Thomas.
Easily the biggest upset of the 2009 tourney in Ottawa came when Janus made 44 saves versus the stacked Americans in the quarterfinals, enabling his team to triumph 5-3.
Considering Slovakia hadn’t made the final four since 1999 in Winnipeg, where it won bronze, this was huge. It was shocking as well, since the Slovaks had been one goal away from the horrors of relegation when they defeated Finland in a shootout to conclude Group B play.
The 19-year-old netminder from Presov couldn’t better the Russians in the bronze medal game, but after falling 5-2, he admitted: “Fourth place is very good for us.” He was deservedly voted a tournament all-star.
Currently toiling for the ECHL’s Florida Everblades, Janus hopes one day to graduate to a job with Steve Yzerman’s Tampa Bay Lightning.