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Tugnutt excited for new Hockey Canada challenge

by Mike G. Morreale /
Former goalie Ron Tugnutt believes cracking an NHL lineup today is a lot tougher than when he first entered the League.

Coming from a man who played for four different teams spanning eight seasons before experiencing a turnaround with the Ottawa Senators in 1996-97, is certainly telling.

"It's tougher for young goalies today because, besides the fact there are only two goalies on a team, it's how long these goalies are playing now," Tugnutt told "They're playing into their 40's. If you think about it, the way they stay in shape, that's also made it tougher on young goalies."

Challenges toughened Tugnutt

Throughout his 15-plus seasons in the NHL, goalie Ron Tugnutt certainly experienced his share of ups and downs.

The most challenging period of his playing career, however, was serving as the backup to Hockey Hall of Famer Patrick Roy in Montreal for parts of the 1993-94 and 1994-95 campaigns. Tugnutt was acquired by the Canadiens in exchange for center Stephan Lebeau.

"Playing with Patrick was tough," Tugnutt told "Patrick has a real strong character and personality and, being his partner, it was difficult because you already knew you weren't the No. 1 and he wasn't shy to let you know you weren't the No. 1.

"I remember telling my dad how I wasn't happy playing behind him in Montreal, how I never got to play and my dad basically said, 'Well, maybe if you'd sit back and watch a little bit, you might learn something.' Oh well."

Despite personal differences, Tugnutt always respected Roy's ability as a goalie.

"I've got nothing but great things to say about Patrick Roy's game," he said. "He might be the best guy to ever play the position."

Tugnutt, who is Hockey Canada's full-time goalie consultant for the 2011-12 season, did play a part in two of the most memorable NHL finishes in League history.

On March 21, 1991, he stopped 70 of 73 shots to help give the Quebec Nordiques a 3-3 tie against the Boston Bruins. It marked the second highest number of saves made in a regular season game in NHL history. On May 4, 2000, the man nicknamed "Tugger", who was then with the Pittsburgh Penguins, again made 70 saves in an epic quintuple overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.

"The 70 saves against Boston was the one that really put my name out there and got me into the NHL," Tugnutt said. "I think no one really heard of me until then, and I think if I had to pinpoint a game that really helped me, it would be that one."

Tugnutt just shook his head when asked about his 2-1 playoff loss to the Flyers -- yielding a goal to Keith Primeau at 12:01 of the fifth overtime.

"It was difficult," he said. "It was a playoff game and we didn't finish until 2:30 in the morning and lost. More importantly, that was a game I just wanted to get over."

--Mike G. Morreale
In fact, there's a good chance six goalies aged 35-or-over could be starting for their respective teams to open the 2011-12 campaign. That list includes Dwayne Roloson of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils, Nikolai Khabibulin of the Edmonton Oilers, Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins, Tomas Vokoun of the Washington Capitals and Chris Mason of the Winnipeg Jets.

"Today, a lot more guys are spending more time in the minors and developing their game, which I think is beneficial," Tugnutt said. "Everyone wants to get to the NHL sooner, but spending time in the minors is great for their development. This way, when they do get to the NHL, they are there to stay."

Tugnutt, drafted by the Quebec Nordiques in the fourth round in 1986, would play for eight different clubs spanning 16-plus seasons in the League. He'd dabble in broadcasting as a color commentator for CBC's Hockey Night in Canada for a season after calling it a career.

Now, he's the full-time goalie consultant for Hockey Canada, a position he acquired on Aug. 17. In his role, the 43-year-old native of Scarborough, Ontario, scouts for Canada's national teams while developing and improving resources for goaltenders and goalie coaches. He'll also work closely with Canada's National Junior Team and National Men's Under-18 Team.

"The experience that Ron has, both in the NHL and internationally, will have a definite impact on our goaltenders, and we feel the way he works and thinks reflects our organization," said Brad Pascall, Hockey Canada's vice-president of hockey operations.

Tugnutt served as goalie consultant for Canada's National Junior Team at the 2010 and '11 IIHF World Junior Championship. He represented Canada twice at the 1993 and '99 WJC.

Tugnutt worked exclusively with the four goalies in attendance at the Canada's National Junior Team development camp in August -- Tyler Bunz (Medicine Hat Tigers), Louis Domingue (Quebec Remparts), Mark Visentin (Niagara IceDogs) and Scott Wedgewood (Plymouth Whalers).

"You used to have those robotic goalies in net that were coming out and now it's going back to you have to be athletic and you have to be quick … it's not all about just being big," Tugnutt said. "When they start downsizing equipment, all of a sudden guys' hands had to be more active. When I start looking at these guys, they're fantastic athletes. If you're going to look at their physiques and look at them in the gym, you wouldn't know if these guys were goalies or players. In the past, you always knew who the goalies were."

Tugnutt thought all four goalies participating at development camp showed plenty of promise.

"All four goalies invited to junior camp can use their hands well, all play the puck very well and are strong stick-handlers," he said. "To say any of them are different would be very difficult."

Barring injury, Visentin is almost certain to be one of the two goalies chosen for Team Canada at the WJC in Edmonton and Calgary from Dec. 26 through Jan. 5. He has a solid resume and even better temperament. He was one of two goalies at camp drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes in 2010, taken in the opening round (No. 27). Domingue was chosen in the fifth round (No. 138). Bunz (Edmonton Oilers, fifth round, 2010) and Wedgewood (New Jersey, third round, 2010) will also be competing for a spot on the team.

"This is a strong year for goaltending in Canada," Tugnutt said. "Not only will these four players be competing for a spot, but others around the junior leagues who weren't invited to the August camp. It won't be easy but I have a lot of fun coaching them. I still make them do a two-pad stack every practice, along with a drill. I've been involved with Hockey Canada for three years now and I've seen these guys for some time and know them off the ice. We've built great relationships and, even though I'm old, we all get along very well."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter: @mike_morreale

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