When Mark Visentin first awoke it was still dark outside. A quick check of the clock told him it was 5 a.m. and that he had slept for less than four hours.
“I was a little anxious,” said the 18-year-old goaltender.
Anxious because he - like the rest of the players left in Team Canada’s selection camp - had been told the final nine cuts would be delivered via phone at 6 a.m. In the bed next to him, fellow goaltender Olivier Roy was sound asleep. Not wanting to disturb his roommate, Visentin quietly drifted back to dreamland once he pushed the thoughts of the impending cuts from his mind.
Not surprisingly Roy was the first one up and out of bed.
“I got the wake-up from my family,” said the 19-year-old Roy, referring to a phone call from his mom in Quebec. “They were saying, ‘Congratulations!’ I didn’t know the news until then.”
It was roughly 7 a.m. by the time Visentin groggily came around to the sounds of Roy chatting on the phone en francais. It had been an hour after the final cuts were supposed to have been made and Visentin was worried the process had been delayed.
“Hey, what’s up? What’s going on?” He asked Roy. “Did you make the team?”
“Yeah,” responded Roy. “So did you!”
“I was still like half asleep, so it was pretty funny,” said Visentin, who tends net for the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs. “We were talking for a bit and then the phone just started going off the hook.”
Making the team provided some redemption for Roy, since he had been one of the final cuts from the 2010 squad and as such was a favourite heading into camp. He said this time around he was far more confident and felt better about his on-ice performance.
“I really didn’t want to be cut twice, that would have been hard,” said the fifth-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers. “But I’m pretty happy right now and this is probably the best day of my life so far.”
The two goaltenders cut from this year’s team were Calvin Pickard of the WHL Seattle Thunderbirds and J.P. Anderson of the OHL Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors, who are both 18 and still eligible for next year’s tournament. Pickard is the younger brother of goaltender Chet Pickard, who helped Canada win gold at the 2009 world junior tournament in Ottawa.
“I told (Calvin) he should be proud to be one of the four goalies selected to be there (at camp),” Chet Pickard, who now plays for the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals, said Wednesday. “You could be the top goal-scorer in the country or a top (NHL) pick, but if you’re not what Team Canada’s looking for, then it’s not in your control.”
The selection camp was the first time Roy and Visentin had become acquainted; according to Canada’s head coach Dave Cameron, it was by happenstance the two ended up as roommates.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Visentin. “I didn’t know him until this week, but we’ve gotten to know each other really well so far. I think we gel pretty good.”
Roy, who plays for the QMJHL’s Acadie-Bathrust Titan, said he was surprised to hear Visentin testing out his French, though he added the two mostly speak English when they’re together. He said he “didn’t expect anyone from the OHL or (WHL) to know any French and (Visentin) knows a little bit of the basics.”
In the three tune-up games at the selection camp, Roy looked confident in each of his outings (which were split with two other goaltenders in camp). Visentin’s shakiest performance came during a wild 7-5 intrasquad game in which he gave up three goals on only 15 shots in a losing cause for Team White.
“It wasn’t the best night for me, I knew that and I’ll be the first one to admit it,” said Visentin of his rocky outing on Monday. “But I’m the type of guy who tries my best to bounce back after those rough games.”
Once the initial excitement of making Team Canada had subsided, the pair begun to focus on the task at hand: how to stop the world and save Canada during the two-week tourney. Given the question marks surrounding the team’s offence, the Canadian goaltending will need to be of a high calibre in the chase for a gold medal.
“Goaltending is always important for a team,” said Visentin. “You’ve heard the classic cliché that your weakest link is your goalie if they’re not performing.
“For me, I don’t think it puts more pressure on us. I think we just have to go out there and focus on our job.”
Visentin, a first-round pick of the Phoenix Coyotes, has a 2.30 goals against average and a .921 save percentage in 21 games with the IceDogs (19-8-2-2), who play in the same division as Cameron’s Mississauga club. Roy has been on Hockey Canada’s radar slightly longer than his goaltending partner, having been a phenom in the QMJHL as a rookie when he set the league record for wins by a 16-year-old. This year with the Titan, the six-foot, 186-pound netminder has a 2.95 goals against average and a .905 save percentage in 21 games.
Cameron said he doesn’t have a feeling on a starter just yet, with that decision likely coming after Canada plays three more exhibition games against Switzerland (Dec. 20 in Oshawa), Sweden (Dec. 21 in Toronto) and Finland (Dec. 23 in Kitchener). Regardless of who gets to start, Chet Pickard – who recorded two wins in two games in his tournament behind fellow netminder Dustin Tokarski – said being a world junior backup isn’t like being a backup anywhere else.
“Dustin started more games and obviously as a goalie you want to start every game,” said Pickard. “But when you’re playing for Team Canada, it’s almost a different story. I was really happy to be there and when called upon I was ready to go. Me and Dustin got along very well and that’s important – our whole team bonded very quickly… we might not have been the best team, but we were the closest guys and I think that’s what helped us win.”
This year much has been made about Canada’s “blue collar” collection of players and the potential lack of offence without a big-named junior scorer like in years past (Sidney Crosby, John Tavares, Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall). But Cameron believes this team - like the one he coaches in Mississauga - will score by committee. And if Canada is going to contain some of the run-and-gun European squads, the emphasis on this year’s team, with three veterans returning to the blue line, will have to be on defence and goaltending.
“Maybe,” said Roy, adding that he’s had all year to prepare for the pressure. “But I don’t believe our team is not going to score goals. I believe our offence can be really good, but no matter what happens in front we have to stop as many pucks as we can to keep the score low. Even if we score tons of goals our job is still going to be to keep our opponents with as low a score as possible. So in that sense it’s not going to change anything.”
Chet Pickard said when he went through the tournament in 2009, Hockey Canada did an excellent job of keeping the mood around the team light so the then-teenagers wouldn’t succumb to the pressures of the tournament - since it’s the one time of the year that most of the country pays attention to junior hockey.
“It’s the biggest time of the year, but it’s also the most fun,” said Pickard, 21, of his experience. “Hockey Canada did a great job of keeping us out of the spotlight and letting us focus on what we had to do and win. They treated us like gold and that’s what we did - we won gold that year. It was an amazing feeling and I’ll remember all the guys I played with for the rest of my life.”
Sunaya Sapurji is the Junior Hockey Editor at Yahoo! Sports. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org