Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

Zach Fucale starting Team Canada’s exhibition opener; Jake Paterson’s experience carries a lot of weight

Zach Fucale will be in net for Canada when it begins its first pre-competition game on Friday and, beyond that, coach Brent Sutter will keep a country in suspense over whom is the national junior team's No. 1 goalie.

Hockey Canada broke with the tried-and-trite by having only the Halifax Mooseheads' Fucale, the reigning Memorial Cup-winning goalie, and the incumbent Paterson from the Saginaw Spirit, as the goalies at its selection camp. The idea was to get the netminders accustomed to working collaboratively, instead of trying to outshine each other. The only clear conclusion is each young netminder has ample big-game experience.

"All the things you've been through since you were five or six years old lead up to this," Fucale, the Montreal Canadiens pick, said prior to Team Canada's takeoff for Europe. "The things you've lived can only help you. Having something like the Memorial Cup is very similar to this. Couple weeks, couple games and no turning back."

How do the goalie's cord-cottage CVs contrast? In May, Fucale was on national television lifting the Memorial Cup with the Mooseheads, where he and Team Canada teammate Jonathan Drouin helped Halifax hold off a stacked Portland Winterhawks team led by current Nashville Predators rookie Seth Jones. The Rosemère, Que., native evinced the same composure he's shown throughout his formative years, including when he set Quebec League rookie records for games played and wins as a 16-year-old.

At the same age, Paterson was No. 3 on Saginaw's depth chart. But the Mississauga, Ont., native excelled as a young goalie with the Junior A Sault Ste. Marie Eagles, whom he backstopped to a league title in 2011. The following season, he wrested away the Spirit's top job from two older goalies and helped the club climb from ninth in its conference at Christmastime to fifth in the final standings. In the playoffs, he helped Saginaw knock off a Sarnia Sting team bolstered by future NHL lottery picks Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk. Paterson was also a big reason that Saginaw stretched the eventual Memorial Cup finalist London Knights to six games in the following round; London took only one other loss in its other three series.

"I've come a long way my last couple years and I think playing the first year in Junior A really helped me," said Paterson, who was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in 2012. "I got to play lots of games. Being in Saginaw has been great. We've had pretty solid teams there. That has helped out.

"Just playing the amount of games I got to play, being a starter the last couple years was key. Also, a couple playoff rounds really put the pressure on as well."

The biggest deviation is that Paterson is 19 and went through this last year as a third-stringer behind Malcolm Subban and Jordan Binnington, who are now AHL rookies with the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues farm clubs.

"Jake was around last year," Team Canada goaltending consultant Fred Brathwaite said. "He obviously didn’t get to play, but he’s been around this environment a bit, a 19-year-old, who plays a lot in Saginaw. I think him being a leader on his team is a great thing for us here.

"With Zach, winning a Memorial Cup, he’s only 18. The way he carries himself and has adapted to [being drafted] to Montreal, which is a tough place to be, he’s a pretty calm, collected guy out there. For us to say who’s going to start is really tough."

Canada had 19-year-olds in goal throughout that halcyon five-year reign from 2005-09. It's probably sheer coincidence that Marc-Andre Fleury and Mark Visentin, both forever associated with blown third-period leads in gold-medal games in 2004 and '11, were both 18-year-olds. That wasn't why Canada finished with the silver. Point being, though, one shouldn't look past Paterson's experience.

"It let me get to know the tournament and let me be comfortable with camp," Paterson said. "That was big. Learning how tough it is to win the tournament is probably the biggest thing I took from last year’s experience."

Parallel with Price, sort of

Fucale, as a Habs pick, inevitably gets held up against current Montreal starter Carey Price, who helped Canada win the WJC gold in 2007 when the event was last played in Sweden. A key difference is that Price was then in his age-19 season with the Tri-City Americans. That fine distinction gets in the way of forcing a narrative.

Fucale, who has packed 179 major junior games into 2½ seasons, seems to get the whole 'perfection is the enemy of good' thing. The world junior is an emotional tinderbox. The next time he's thrown off by circumstances beyond his control might be the first.

"In a hockey game, there’s so many different things that can happen and that we can’t control," Fucale said. "Sometimes it’s a little something that can change the course of the game and that can happen on both teams. You have to make sure you’re well-prepared for those situations and if you’re well-prepared you can deal with them in the right way."

Following the Finland tilt, Canada faces host Sweden on Sunday and plays Switzerland on Monday to wrap up pre-competition. It's way too soon to start anointing a starter or imagining that Fucale could emulate the goalie he wants to replace in Montreal in a few years.

"In the end, I want to write my own little story in this and help the team as much as I can," Fucale said. "Me and Jake, we’ll do everything he can."

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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