The hockey season is almost at the halfway mark in the OHL, and yet it’s already shaping up to be a banner year for Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors goaltender J.P. Anderson.
He’s backstopped the Majors to one of the hottest starts in Canada (26-4-0-1) and leads the league with a stingy 2.29 goals-against average and a 17-4 record.
“It’s been kind of a roller coaster ride,” said Anderson, one of four goaltenders vying for a spot with Team Canada at their world junior selection camp, which opened Sunday at the MasterCard Centre in Toronto.
Anderson was passed over in June at the 2010 NHL draft in Los Angeles, but a mere hour after the draft concluded was invited to training camp with the San Jose Sharks. In the fall, the Sharks signed the Toronto native to a three-year entry-level contract. And now Anderson is looking for his shot to lead Team Canada between the pipes when the 2011 world junior championship gets underway in Buffalo on Dec. 26.
He’ll be under the watchful eye of Canadian head coach Dave Cameron, who also coaches Anderson in Mississauga. Having played under Cameron with the Majors for the past three seasons, the 5-foot-11, 185-pound puckstop hopes that familiarity breeds confidence rather than contempt.
“I have to be myself,” Anderson said. “I can’t really hide anything from Dave; I’ve been with him for three years now so he knows what I’m all about. He knows what I’m about on a day-to-day basis and the best way for me to get good reviews from him was to go out and play well every day. So every day was a tryout.”
Now that the official Hockey Canada evaluations have begun, Cameron said he will be giving all 40 players at camp the opportunity to make their case to join the elite junior squad.
“I think we’ll give everybody at least two intersquad games before we do anything [with cuts] and we’ll make our decisions after that,” said the head coach on Sunday before the first of two such games.
At camp Anderson will be battling Acadie-Bathurst’s Olivier Roy, Seattle’s Calvin Pickard and Niagara’s Mark Visentin for the chance to represent Canada when they open their tournament against Russia. With no incumbent returning from the 2009 silver-winning squad, the two goaltending positions are more open than they have been in the past, meaning the competition will be even tougher.
“I had a chance this summer to participate in a Hockey Canada goalie camp with [Roy and Pickard],” said Anderson of where he first scouted his rivals. “I learned some stuff from them because they’re both very sound technically. I look forward to competing with them.”
Three of the four invitees were part of Canada’s under-17 program at the 2009 world U17 challenge in Port Alberni, B.C., with Visentin and Anderson winning gold with Team Ontario and Pickard, a native of Winnipeg, backstopping Team West.
“[Pickard’s] a really sound guy, he plays a real fluid game,” Anderson said. “He’s always in control and you can tell he’s a real confident goalie.”
At the start of camp on Sunday both Anderson and Pickard (2.80 GAA, .926 SV) were in tandem for Team White practice before they played an intrasquad game against Team Red later in the evening. And even though they’re competing for the same job, the goaltenders have seemed to have already built some mutual admiration.
“I’ve seen J.P. play a few times and he’s a smaller goalie, but he moves like the wind he’s so quick,” said Pickard on Sunday. “He’s having a really good year, but I know him more just as a guy and I love him as a guy. I’m hoping the best for him.”
Team Red is being backstopped by Roy (2.95, .905) and Visentin (2.30, .921), a first round pick of the Phoenix Coyotes (27th overall) in June. Since the IceDogs are in the OHL’s Central Division along with the Majors, he and Anderson are very familiar foes.
“He’s an awesome kid and always fun to work with,” said Anderson of his friend.
Since Roy is a year older at 19, he’s been on Hockey Canada’s radar a little longer and was a cut from Canada’s selection camp last year, an added advantage on the netminder newbies going through the process now.
“It’s a huge asset,” said Team Canada assistant coach Andre Tourigny. “He’s has the chance to be a starter in the playoffs for the last three years in the [QMJHL], and he’s played on a competitive team every year. He has a lot of opportunity to take that experience and show off that talent. This is his last year of junior so it will be a great chance for him to be here.”
Roy, a fifth-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers in 2009, already holds a number of QMJHL records many of which he set as a 16-year-old with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. Tourigny, the head coach of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, caught Roy in action last Thursday when the native of Causapscal, Que., made 26 saves en route to a 3-2 victory over the Victoriaville Tigres in a league game.
“He was a game-breaker for his team,” Tourigny said. “He finds a way to win games, he’s a fighter.
“But he’ll have the same chance as the three other guys [to make the team], so it will be up to him to catch his opportunity.”