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Blackwood aims for shot with Canada at 2016 WJC

by Staff Writer / New Jersey Devils

CALGARY – Canada's goaltending situation at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship is a long way from being determined.

But the three goaltenders participating in Hockey Canada's national junior team summer development camp aren't shying away from making it known that they're up for the task of defending World Junior gold.

"It would mean everything," said Mason McDonald at WinSport's Markin MacPhail Centre at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary, hoping to be the starter for the tournament that starts Dec. 26, 2015 and runs through Jan. 5, 2016 in Finland. "It's something I've dreamed of ever since I was young. It's what I've worked the last few summers for. I've thought about it so much. I'm just really excited to have the opportunity this week."

The candidates include McDonald, who represented Team Atlantic at the World Under-17 Challenge in 2013, and backstopped Canada at the World Under-18 Championship in 2014, posting a 1.94 goals against average and .930 save percentage en route to being named the tournament's top goaltender and helping Canada to bronze.

"I think that experience shows them I can be the starter," said McDonald, who is expected to start Canada's first exhibition game against Russia on Monday (10 p.m. ET, TSN). "Right now, it's just a process of showing them I can still do that and I can do that at Christmastime. If I do show them that, I'll have a good chance of cracking the team."

McDonald, who also won gold with Canada's 2013 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup entry as backup to Julio Billia, was the first goaltender selected (No. 34, Calgary Flames) in the 2014 NHL Draft. He posted a 28-22-4 record for the Charlottetown Islanders last season with a 3.06 GAA and .906 save percentage, second-highest in the Quebec Montreal Junior Hockey League.

Samuel Montembeault of the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada and Mackenzie Blackwood of the Barrie Colts join McDonald at development camp. Neither has represented Canada internationally.

Blackwood, selected in the second round (No. 42) by the New Jersey Devils in the 2015 NHL Draft, went 33-14-2 with a 3.09 GAA and .906 save percentage for the Colts.

"It would be an incredible honor [to start]," Blackwood said. "It would be an amazing feeling to have the country on your back and ride them into a gold medal. That would be an incredible honor. I don't think anything could compare to it. I realize that that's a lot of pressure but at the same time you can't be thinking about that as you're playing a game.

"You have to be able to put that out of your head and play while the game is going on. If you can just not succumb to the pressure and keep calm and play your own game, that'll allow you to be better."

Montembeault was 33-11-7 with the Armada last season, with a 2.59 goals against average and .891 save percentage. The Florida Panthers selected him in the third round (No. 77) of the 2015 NHL Draft.

"I can be the guy," Montembeault said. "I was a No. 1 goalie on my team last year. I can do the job as a No. 1 goalie. The door is wide open. They are taking all new goalies this year and there's only three in camp. Anything is possible. I will try to do my best to get on the team."

But Fred Brathwaite, tasked with overseeing the trio, cautioned that the week in Calgary, which will include exhibition games against Russia and the Czech Republic, is more about development and evaluation and less about making Canada's roster four months out.

"It is August," said Braithwaite, who himself represented Canada internationally at three IIHF Men's World Championships from 1999-2001. "It's a chance for me to see these guys and let our other staff see these guys. A lot of things are going to happen between the beginning of the season and Christmastime. It gives us a good chance to see them and for them to be familiar with everyone else."

Brathwaite also cautioned that, while McDonald, Blackwood and Montembeault are currently in camp, none are assured a spot on Canada's World Junior team.

In fact, the duo set for Finland might not yet be at camp.

"We're looking for someone we're confident with and whoever is playing the best at that time is going to get a chance," Brathwaite said. "Just because those three are here, it doesn't mean they're two of the three that are going to play for us at Christmastime. Whoever starts to get hot, we're going to focus on them as well. Not necessarily two out of these three will be there. It could be two totally different guys."

It hasn't stopped Montembeault from dreaming of representing Canada for the first time, though.

"I've never been in the under-17 or under-18's," he said. "I'm very proud to be Canadian and can represent Canada at an international tournament. I'd be proud to represent my country and try to bring back a gold medal."

Aaron Vickers

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