As the IIHF Men’s World Championship gets underway, there is a heavy focus on the Canadian goalies this time around and not just for their participation on the event. Since Roberto Luongo’s unfortunate meltdowns in the 2010-2011 Stanley Cup Finals, it would be a long shot to see him in net for Team Canada in the 2014 Winter Olympics leading one to believe this tournament will be an audition for Canadian goalies.
Representing Team Canada for goalies is a collection of tenders one might not expect to see play at an elite level given their reputation this season.
First up is Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes. All season the Hurricanes struggled to make an impact, struggling with injuries and a midseason coach replacement, and in the end, the focus was on everything but the actual play. In 68 regular season games Cam Ward faced shots from some of the best shooters in the world. In the end, Ward walked away with a 30-23-13 record and 2.74 GAA. His 13 OT losses places him first in the NHL for OT losses but, he did also manage 5 shut outs this season. How much of those losses were because of a struggling team in front of him and how much was it his own fault? Well that will be answered in the next few weeks as he plays for Team Canada. His chances for goaltending at the Olympics are pretty high too. Ward does have the experience of a high pressure situation, he won the Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes in the 2005-2006 season.
Next on the roster is young, Matt Hackett of the Minnesota Wild. While he only played in 12 games in the NHL, he did put up impressive numbers in his time with the Houston Aeros (AHL) and the Plymouth Whalers (OHL). Hackett has not won the Calder Cup in his time with the Aeros so he doesn’t have the high pressure experience, but the young goalie has shown potential in those few games. How much time will he see in the tournament? That’s still to be determined, with two veteran goalies heading to the Championship with Hackett. Either way, the experience of the tournament can only prepare him more for future seasons.
The third goaltender going to the World Championships is Devan Dubnyk of the Edmonton Oilers. This three season veteran has not made his NHL playoff debut yet, but still has some serious skill between the pipes. While the Oilers struggle to rebuild their team on a bunch of first round draft picks, Dubnyk has slowly begun to step up his presence out on the ice. He wrapped up the season 20-20-0 with a .914 SV% and 2.67 GAA. Both his record and GAA average improved from the previous season (his SV% was .916, but not a terrible drop). Like the previous two goalies, he struggled through the season and it is unclear whether Dubnyk’s struggles are all on himself or the lack of strength in front of him is the only factor.
Could one of these three goalies lead Team Canada in 2014? While their stats right now say no, there is a chance that in a season and a half these players grow and mature into Olympic caliber goaltenders.