Skip to main content

Cool, calm and composed requirements for Canadian junior team's goalie

NHL.com @NHL

CALGARY - Wanted: A goalie with a low resting heart rate.

The goaltenders who have helped Canada win three straight gold medals at the world junior hockey championship have all been composed individuals, but Carey Price set a new standard of serenity when he led Canada to its third in January.

His nothing-rattles-me demeanour pulled Canada through a tense semifinal against the U.S., which the Canadians had to win in a shootout to get to the final.

Craig Hartsburg, who is coaching the junior team a second consecutive year, would like another one just like Price.

"We wanted to find a goalie who would instil confidence in a team, not only by the way he plays, but how he handles himself," Hartsburg said Tuesday.

"He's got to make big saves, we know that, but the body language will be very important for the guy that is our goaltender. You don't want, if a goal goes in, their heads down and that kind of stuff."

None of the four invited to selection camp this week in Calgary seem like white-knuckle goalies, but which one would be coolest under fire at the 2008 world junior tournament starting later this month in the Czech Republic?

"I think each guy has their own style. I would say Carey is an extreme example of calmness," said Leland Irving, Price's backup in Sweden.

"Even watching him now with the Montreal Canadiens it's amazing how poised he is, but for myself if I'm able to stay calm and be really relaxed and in that zone, you allow yourself to be a little more patient."

Irving, of the Everett Silvertips and Jonathan Bernier of the Lewiston Maineiacs have the most international experience among the four as both have played for Canada's under-18 squad.

Bernier tried out for the junior team last year and was released, while Irving was the No. 2 goalie behind Price and didn't get into any games.

Steve Mason of the London Knights proved capable in the international game during the Super Series against Russia in late summer.

Tyson Sexsmith, the lone 18-year-old among them, lacks international experience, but won a Memorial Cup with the Vancouver Giants in May.

Irving, Bernier and Mason were rotated through the eight games of the Super Series, with Mason and Irving getting three starts apiece and Bernier two.

But only two goalies will be named to the team at the end of this week for the world junior championship and only one will get the majority of starts.

"You come in with the reputation you've got, but what it comes down to is who is having the good camp," Irving said. "It could take one bad goal, it could take one bad game. The margin of error is so small."

Canadian goaltending coach Corey Hirsch played with some uptight goaltenders during his career, but he says the days of them sitting in their locker-room stalls and rocking back and forth in a beady-eyed trance before a game, as his Dallas Stars' teammate Ron Tugnutt did, are virtually over.

"Years ago, you had a lot of goalies who were a little bit crazier," Hirsch explained. "Now it seems you've got the more laid-back type goalie.

"Things have changed a lot with goaltending and it seems with the butterfly style, it's kind of hang back and relax and let the game come to you. Years past, it was more of an aggressive position."

Goaltending in international hockey requires more sang-froid than in North America as the wider ice surface in Europe allows teams to make an extra pass or two before shooting.

"Things don't happen quite as fast," Hirsch said. "On a smaller rink, it's all about getting the puck to the net."

If he gives up a bad goal, Canada's goaltender will either have to truly not mind, or bottle up his feelings if he does, so that his teammates take their cue from him and soldier on.

"I guarantee you we will have at least one soft goal against us in this tournament," Hirsch said. "Every team will. You don't want that to be the turning point."

A quick look at the four goaltenders invited to the Canadian junior hockey team's selection camp this week in Calgary:

Leland Irving, Everett Silvertips

Experienced in international hockey. Got a close-up view of what's required to get a gold medal as Carey Price's backup in Sweden.

Quote: "For myself, I want to be able to do what Carey did last year and take that team on my back and bring home gold for this country."

Jonathan Bernier, Lewiston Maineiacs

Can be a game-stealer when he's hot, but needs a better selection camp than last year to play for Canada. Wasn't far from making the Los Angeles Kings' roster in September.

Quote: "I think I'm stronger mentally and more mature than last year, so I think this is the biggest thing that I can bring to this team."

Steve Mason, London Knights

Invited to last year's camp, but unable to compete due to a concussion. Demonstrated resiliency during Super Series when he let in a soft goal in the first period of Game 1, but recovered to make 40 saves in Canada's 4-2 win.

Quote: "I showed the coaching staff and the management here that I'm pretty mentally strong and if I do let a bad goal in, it's not going to affect the rest of my game."

Tyson Sexsmith, Vancouver Giants

The only 18-year-old invited lacks the international experience of the other three. Backstopped the Vancouver Giants to a Memorial Cup victory in May and that tournament is similar in time frame and pressure to the world junior tournament.

Quote: "I'm probably an underdog in this camp, but the way I look at it is I'm the youngest goalie here and I've got another year if this year doesn't work out. I'd say the pressure is on their shoulders."

View More