EDMONTON – One of the big questions about the Canadian team has been the goalie position. Both Mark Visentin and Scott Wedgewood are battling for the number-one position heading into the playoff round.
The question of netminding has been an important one in Canada in recent years. Canda used to rely heavily on the play of its goaltenders to win U20 gold, but now it's more the skaters who have carried the load, while the goalies have had inconsistent performances in key games in recent years.
On paper, the Canadians look dominant, but they haven't yet been tested to the fullest. With Visentin, they have the Phoenix Coyotes’ 2010 first-round pick and a goalie who’s a returnee on the U20 national team.
Visentin helped Canada win silver last year in Buffalo. However, what would be seen as a great accomplishment in many countries is often viewed with skepticism in a country where the only medal that counts is gold, especially since Visentin played a central role in Canada’s third-period breakdown in the 2011 gold-medal game against Russia.
So far, both goalies have done their job in Edmonton. Visentin entered this tournament as the starter and appeared in the net for wins against Finland (8-1) and Denmark (10-2). He was virtually unchallenged in parts of the games against these northern European teams and conceded three goals for a 94.12 save percentage.
This figure puts him third among starting goaltenders, behind only Russia’s Andrei Vasilevski and Finland’s Sami Aittokallio, but he was not tested to the same degree that higher-ranked nations will offer.
Wedgewood made his debut – and so far, his only appearance – in a 5-0 blanking of the Czech Republic. He hit the headlines not only for his 26-save shutout, which made him the only goalie in this World Junior competition to not concede a goal (besides Vasilevski), but also for an assist in that game.
“I stopped the puck and passed it off. They didn’t score on the first attempt, but then put it in,” Wedgewood said. “It was pretty cool. That’s probably the best game I could have come up with. The team won, I kept them off the board for goals, and obviously got a point. There was just a goal missing, but I guess that’s not going to happen.”
The assist was not coincidence, as it often is when goalies are awarded helpers. It was the result of some great hockey sense and a perfect pass to Freddie Hamilton.
The hockey sense is no coincidence either. The Plymouth Whalers goalie played as a defenceman as a kid.
“I switched around my 11th birthday from defenceman to goalie. We played three-on-three with my brothers and I was the youngest one, so I went into the net,” Wedgewood explained. “I played a year when I signed a player card and goalie card and switched back and forth. Then we said I’m a goalie from now on. I enjoy the position and love the game.”
And the crowd in Edmonton seems to love him too. They chanted his name at the end of the game and when they expected him to be named Best Player for his team.
“That’s the first time this ever happened to me. It was pretty surreal. I just turned around and sipped my water and they stand up and cheer on me,” he said. “I looked at my parents and my brother, and they will probably remember it as much as I will. It’s pretty sweet.”
Coach Hay has a difficult decision to make. In today’s game against the United States we might get to know who will be the number one goalie heading into the elimination round.
Will he choose Visentin, the 2011 OHL Goaltender of the Year, rated higher by scouts, boasting more international experience – but also carrying a blemish on his record from January 5, 2011?
Or will he go with international rookie Wedgewood, who’s put some pressure on Visentin after his stellar debut against the Czechs?
Wedgewood is eager to fight for the number-one spot, but both he and Visentin know that it will be a tough decision for Hay.
“It’s the best hockey I’ve played in my career so far and I like to play under pressure,” Wedgewood says. “From Day One I wanted to push. I definitely want to play, Mark wants to play. Mark has done great for the team last year and this year. I don’t know if I’ve caught up with him yet.”
“Whoever they choose, we need to do our best and make the team win.”