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Visentin gets nod in Canada's WJC opener

by Mike G. Morreale
Canadian National Junior Team coach Don Hay on Monday declared goalie Mark Visentin his starter against Finland in the country's 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship opener at Rexall Place in Edmonton.

The Canadians, winner of the silver medal the previous two years, will open their Group B preliminary-round schedule against the Finns Monday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

In addition to having the most experience of the two goalies on the team, the start could give Visentin an opportunity to put to bed the final 20 minutes of last year's gold-medal loss to the Russians. Visentin is constantly reminded of his team's gold medal game collapse on Jan. 5, 2011. To some, it was considered the worst defeat in the illustrious international history of Team Canada.

And Visentin had a front row seat.

Leading 3-0 at the second intermission, the Russians stormed back for three unanswered goals on Visentin in the opening 7:29 of the third period to pull even. Riding a wave of momentum that just couldn't be stopped, Russia's Artemi Panarin then connected for the go-ahead goal with 4:38 left on the clock before Nikita Dvurechenski sealed the deal with 1:16 remaining in a 5-3 victory.

"You have to get rid of that game," Visentin told the media back in August. "You'll have a lot of highs and a lot of lows and, unfortunately, that was a big time low for me … definitely the biggest one ever."

Thing is, even counting the third-period meltdown, Visentin finished 3-1 with a 2.01 goals-against average and .923 save percentage in four games at the tournament. He realizes, however, those last 20 minutes of the gold-medal contest are what stand out most. But the 6-foot-1.5, 198-pound keeper showed a tremendous amount of character right afterwards by answering every question the media tossed at him during the post-game scrum.

"For me, I didn't really think about it too much," he said. "I'm just the kind of guy who likes to get stuff done and whether the media is on your side or not, it's something you have to do … it's part of the game. My thoughts after that loss were just go and get it over with. It was probably the toughest time of my life after that game and it was so hard to swallow. I learned a lot from it, though, and it motivated me to get even better."

Did he ever. Visentin would close out the 2010-11 campaign as the top goalie in the Ontario Hockey League, going 30-9-6 with a 2.52 GAA and four shutouts in 46 appearances for the Niagara IceDogs.

"You learn through adversity, and he's had his hands full in a short period of time learning to cope with pressure," Team Canada goalie coach Ron Tugnutt told "But Mark's also got to understand there's also support. There are people supporting him out there."

In 21 games with Niagara this season, his fourth in the OHL, he sports an 11-9-0 mark with a 2.82 GAA and 4 shutouts. Visentin, drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round (No. 27) in 2010, is backed up by Scott Wedgewood.

Wedgewood, a third-round selection (No. 84) of the New Jersey Devils in 2010, is in his fourth season with the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL. In 21 contests in 2011-12, he is 13-8-0 with a 3.08 GAA and 2 shutouts.

Follow Mike Morreale at the World Junior Championship on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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