clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Eric Comrie, Zach Fucale and Looking Beyond Goaltending to Explain Canada's Woes at the World Junior Championships

New, comments

Canada has struggled at the World Junior Championships for the past five years. The goalies have shouldered the blame, but the scoring difficulties should be the bigger story.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

He bit. When he needed perfection, he bit on a shot that should have been an easy save for him. Carey Price let in a goal he could have stopped and for way too long, Canada held its collective breath as its Men's Olympic Hockey team waged a war with Latvia. They won in the end, off of a slapshot from Shea Weber in the third. The game was close though; too close some would say. The game came down to one save and thankfully Carey Price was able to make it. If not, Price  would have been a pariah in Canada for years because of one shot. That is how thin the margin of error is in hockey sometimes.

The past five years have turned into a disaster for Hockey Canada at the World Junior Championships. Instead of looking at the larger picture which has featured Canada's inability to score when the games are important, everyone has looked at the goalies and said they are the reason Canada has been shut out of the medals for two years and has not won the gold medal in five years. That is the easy, lazy narrative. Instead, TSN gave us a graphic that showed just how badly Canada's offence has struggled in elimination games of late. Screenshot curtesy of Chris Boyle.

There you go. When Canada has needed goals to win, they have gotten nothing. Canada should be able to ice a team strong enough that they can get by with mediocre goaltending. There may be times when certain players on Canada cannot buy a goal, but collectively they should be good enough to be able to compensate for a player or two struggling to score with their collective offensive ability. Canada has not the past few years and instead of looking at the offence, the blame has been thrown directly on the shoulders of goalies past.

Back to that Olympic Quaterfinal game against Latvia. Carey Price was in goal and he has the ability to shake off a bad goal now. He was in goal because he gave Canada the best chance to win. It is not to say that Roberto Luongo is a bad goalie, it is only to say that at this point in time, Price is most likely better as the Montreal Canadiens rely on him to win every game. This is where we can look at the coaches and question their thinking. Is it giving Canada the best possible chance to win if Zach Fucale is starting in goal? No. It is not Fucale's fault that he is starting though. Eric Comrie is the superior goalie and should be starting. However, Canada should not be building a team that relies on goalies to win games. Instead, they need to build teams that can with the likes of Jeff Glass and Justin Pogge in net.

The failing is not with the goalies. Development there can be fixed with a complete change in the national mentality of how we develop young goalies. Instead, the short term fix is how a team is set. Remember the Men's Olympic Team in Sochi? There was skill where skill traditionally does not have to be. The fourth line was skilled. The first line was able to player power on power and absolutely dominate the competition. When the salary cap was thrown out, Canada built a team so skilled they were playing keep away against top teams. Canada's team was simply dominant.

Oddly enough, this format of team building has not been applied to the lower age groups of Hockey Canada teams. Instead of loading up in skill and letting the players figure out the rest. Instead, players like Frederick Gauthier are selected to the World Junior team when they lack the skill of some of the players cut. Hockey Canada coaches are willing to sacrifice puck possession skills for players who are more defensively minded and have the puck less. Analysis Ray Ferraro has openly questioned this mindset of needing "120 foot" players on the team when scoring in an obvious need at any level. As Ferraro puts it "sometimes you need the 60 foot players". Those are the players that can bring you offence.

Eric Comrie should be starting because he is the goalie that gives Canada the larger margin for error. He is not to blame if Canada cannot score goals; same with Zach Fucale. Canada has set itself up well based on goal differential and ability to score. Although the offence looked rougher against Germany, that is one game and as long as Canada does not let their opponents dictate the play too often, they should be fine. As my mom observed against Slovakia, this version of team Canada is the best passing/skilled group that she can remember in a long time. If the skill of players like Max Domi and Nik Petan continues to shine, Canada should end up fine.

Random Observations:

Denmark has been really impressive early on. Having two non-blowouts and one shootout loss to show for their efforts so far is excellent for them.

Slovakia tries to run everything through Martin Reway. Canada was able to shut Slovakia down by keying on Reway. Finland gave him a bit of space and he delivered with two assists.

The demise of the Czech Republic has been ignored for a long time. Slovakia has been talked about, but the Czech's are equally questionable and even their NHLers are getting up there in age.

Jack Eichel is good.

So is Connor McDavid.

Finland looked bad against the Americans. Their goaltending is good, but the offence is not clicking. It was better against Slovakia but they ran into God(la).

It takes some getting used to, but the automatic 10 minute misconduct for hitting from behind, boarding, and hits to the head is a good thing. Teaches players to not make those hits because a severe in game penalty is coming.

Underreported that the IIHF has moved away from no touch icing. Because they consistently call the games tightly, this should help speed up the games.

Great teams can win with mediocre goaltending, mediocre teams need great goaltending to have a chance to win.