April 23, 2012
Mark Visentin, often perceived as Mr. Serious, was as devil-may-care as a child let loose from school on Monday. And why not?
The 19-year-old Phoenix Coyotes prospect is often slotted into the basic goalie personality profile: grounded, even-keeled, reflective. The beauty of the rare treat of a goalie scoring a goal it only takes the right set of circumstances — a goalie who takes pride in his puck-handling and a late-game 6-on-4 scenario where there's no risk of icing or giving the opponent an easier chance to tie the game. When that presented itself it Monday, Visentin hit the net from more than 185 feet away with 38 seconds left to seal the Niagara IceDogs' 5-2 win over the Ottawa 67's in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final.
"I honestly wasn't trying to score," Visentin said as he cooled down on an exercise bike outside the IceDogs dressing room at the J. Benson Cartage Centre. "I was just trying to get it out. I looked up and it was just going in the net. I didn't even know, it just such a surreal feeling. A couple of guys started celebrating, 'you scored a goal.' I was like... it doesn't make sense.
"It was an awesome feeling and a great way to end the game if you look at the way the game went, with that one mistake I had in the second period," added the two-time Team Canada netminder, who stopped 22-of-24 shots one day after being pulled in Niagara's Game 2 loss. "It was a good way to end it off."
A goalie scoring a goal is like the triple play in baseball, a rarity that leaves observers abuzz, recalling if they've ever witnessed it previously. Along with typically needing a two-goal lead, the puck has to go to a certain area and the goalie needs a clear shot at the far goal. Visentin went behind the net to play the puck after the 67's dumped it in. He fired it high and out of the zone. It ended up hitting the net dead centre, giving him one more goal in the series than Ottawa's Tyler Toffoli, who's led the OHL in that category for two consecutive years.
It is believed to be the first goaltender goal in the OHL since Justin Peters scored for the Toronto-St. Michael's Majors against Sudbury on Mar. 30, 2004, also in a playoff game. Fred Brathwaite also scored for the Detroit Jr. Red Wings in the 1993 post-season. In the aftermath, Visentin, who spoke of how his minor hockey coaches long ago impressed the need to include playing the puck in his repertoire upon him, sounded as much like a fan as a player.
"I've never seen it happen live," he said. "Obviously, I've seen tonnes on YouTube — Ronnie Hextall, Martin Brodeur. It's pretty cool to see those guys do it in the playoffs and it's cool to do it here in the playoffs, but more importantly I'm happy we got the win.
"It was a game where I needed to bounce back," Visentin added when asked about Sunday, when he allowed six goals on 19 shots. "You let in four quick goals, it's not a great feeling. Today I had to be better and I tried to focus on playing well for the full 60 minutes."
Made up for earlier miscue
The joke going around the arena was that Visentin's goal went along with quote-unquote assist he had in the second period. The IceDogs fell behind 2-1 early in the frame on a strange short-handed goal. A centring pass from the corner to Ottawa goalie Michael Nishi's left eluded everyone. Visentin came out of his crease and cleared it toward three teammates who collectively did an Alphonse-and-Gaston ("no, you got it") routine. Instead, Ottawa's Dalton Smith got the puck and slapped it into the unprotected net from 60 feet out.
Visentin and the IceDogs weren't ruffled by the brain cramp, with coach-GM Marty Williamson later shrugging it off as "a bad break." Visentin put it fully on himself.
"It was definitely my fault," said the Waterdown, Ont., native. "My team did a good job bouncing back and playing well in front of me and coming out well in the third period. That's the way we need to play consistently."
The goalie got a congratulatory hug from IceDogs co-owner Bill Burke as soon as wrapped up a post-game TV interview. Four IceDogs have yet to score in the playoffs. Grinding forward Joel Wigle and defencemen Luke Mercer, Jamie Oleksiak and Shayne Rover have yet to shake a goal out of their sticks. Visentin related that he wouldn't have to rub it in with his teammates who have a donut under the 'G' on the stat sheet.
"They were the guys who were coming to me and chirping themselves," he said. "It's all fun and games right now in the dressing room. It's still a surreal feeling. For the guys who haven't scored a playoff goal, it's pretty funny, but I'm confident they'll catch up and soon surpass me."
Williamson chuckled after he was asked if he would have to rein in Visentin after his goal.
"It's pretty easy in that dressing room," he said. "They keep each other accountable. We're happy for him and that's the time you try to do it [with a two-goal lead]."
The coach might have been alluding to a prior instance when Visentin ignored the two-goal-lead rule. On Feb. 3 when the IceDogs won 3-2 at London in a possible OHL final preview, the netminder took a shot at the vacant net in the final seconds. It nearly backfired on the IceDogs.
"I missed by about a foot and they called icing with nine seconds left and they got a couple of chances off that faceoff," Visentin recalled. "It was risky and on that one I was trying to score, so I guess I should just not try."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (video: Rogers Television).