OTTAWA – The world junior hockey championship put goaltenders Carey Price and Steve Mason on the fast track to the NHL.
Price, the Montreal Canadiens’ starter, and Mason, the NHL’s rookie of the month for November with the Columbus Blue Jackets, were named the most valuable players of the 2007 and 2008 world junior tournaments respectively before embarking on NHL careers.
Both goalies pushed the Canadian team through tight spots and tense games en route to gold medals.
The four netminders invited to this year’s selection camp followed the exploits of Price and Mason, so they’re aware of the opportunity for them at the 2009 world junior championship in Ottawa.
“It is huge,” Jake Allen of the Montreal Junior said Friday. “They had a great tournament, which I think boosted their confidence and made them a little bit more known around the world.
“You’re not going to get much higher, other than the NHL, than this. It’s huge for your confidence and your game and to show your NHL organization what you can do.”
Head coach Pat Quinn will choose two goaltenders and the rest of his team by Monday morning.
At least one candidate usually stands out before camp based on performance and experience.
But it’s difficult to compare the resumes of Allen, Tyson Sexmith of the Vancouver Giants, Dustin Tokarski of the Spokane Chiefs and Chet Pickard of the Tri-City Americans because they’re so different, according to Hockey Canada head scout Al Murray.
“There’s not a lot you can read into things except let’s see how they all do,” Murray said. “Obviously it’s going to be real easy if two guys are great and two other guys struggle.”
The importance of goaltending in a short tournament like the world juniors can’t be overstated.
“If you look at the history of Canadian golds, their best player has often been the goalie,” Quinn said.
With time so short at selection camp, the goalies’ histories with their club teams, and their record in big games, will factor into Quinn’s decisions.
Sexsmith, a third-round draft pick of the San Jose Sharks, won a Memorial Cup with the Giants in 2007. The 19-year-old from Priddis, Alta., tried out for the junior team last year, but was cut.
Sexsmith faces few shots nightly behind Vancouver’s smothering defence and doesn’t get to handle the puck that much.
Tokarski has also demonstrated an ability to win short, intense tournaments. The 19-year-old goalie from Watson, Sask., was MVP of this year’s Memorial Cup and also won a Canadian midget triple-A championship in 2006 with the Prince Albert Mintos. He’s a fifth-round pick of Tampa Bay.
Allen is a relative newcomer. The 18-year-old from New Maryland, N.B., burst onto the scene at the world under-18 championship in April. The second-round pick of the St. Louis Blues was named top goaltender at the tournament. Allen and Tokarski face the most shots with their respective club teams.
Pickard was the highest goaltender taken in this year’s NHL draft at No. 18 by Nashville. The 19-year-old from Winnipeg has run hot and cold this season with the Americans.
“Chet has either been player of the week or struggled,” Murray said.
A cool and calm demeanour in Canada’s net has become just as important as the ability to stop pucks, particularly this year when the hosts play at the 19,000-seat Scotiabank Place in Ottawa.
“Teams seem to play better in front of some guys for some reason,” Quinn said. “They just have a confidence in them and I don’t know where that emanates from them always, whether it’s just style, whether it’s their history.”
Price was so relaxed off the ice, it was tempting to check for a pulse. But Pickard was Price’s backup in Tri-City for two seasons and says Price was a master of masking his emotions.
“Carey would tell me he was going crazy on the inside but not showing it on the outside,” Pickard said. “I think it’s something you’ve got to learn to control.
“In this tournament, there’s going to be 20,000 screaming Canadian fans rooting for you the whole time. There’s going to be highs and lows in the tournament and you’ve just got to be able to stay on that even keel the whole time.”
While the ability to shake off a questionable goal and close the door on shooters the rest of the game is a desirable trait, Murray can think of an even better one.
“We want the guy who doesn’t give up any soft goals,” he said. “That’s the guy we want.”
Notes: Brandon Wheat Kings winger Matt Calvert received treatment on a sore lower back and did not skate Friday morning . . . After the Canadian team is announced Monday, they will spend two days at CFB Petawawa and then head to Orangeville, Ont., on Dec. 18 for seven days . . . Exhibition games are Dec. 19 versus Sweden in Toronto, Dec. 21 in Mississauga, Ont., against Finland and Dec. 23 in Hamilton versus Slovakia.