Laurent Brossoit had a busy summer after an enigmatic spring, backstopping the Edmonton Oil Kings to a WHL Championship before struggling on the national stage. He put up an .871 save percentage at the Memorial Cup in Shawinigan, faltering along with an Oil Kings team on short rest, before allowing six goals in his only appearance for Team Canada against Russia in this summer's Canada-Russia challenge.
At one point, Brossoit was considered a cinch to be one of Canada's two goaltenders at the upcoming World Junior championships in Ufa, Russia. But after a few shaky performances in prominent games on Canadian national television, other candidates began to emerge, and the quality of Brossoit's goaltending and overall body of work was ignored. He redeemed himself Wednesday night stopping 30 of 30 shots—plus 3 shootout attempts—and looking spectacular in Team WHL's Game Five 1-0 shootout win over Team Russia.
Not only did he do it on national TV, but he did it at the Pacific Coliseum, the Vancouver arena close to his home town of Surrey.
"There was another Sportsnet game against Calgary this season that I didn't show my best," Brossoit said about his showcase games. Junior hockey players don't get an awful lot of airtime, particularly out West, and players who are looking to endear themselves to a nation don't always have the luxury of many chances to show what they can do. "Everything's an experience. I definitely went through emotions and feelings that I'd never gone through before in a game."
Small sample sizes are unforgiving, but it's the nature of the tournaments junior players go through. In his first eight games this season, Brossoit was 4-4 with an .887 save percentage and a 3.04 goals against average. Since October 20, he's gone 5-1 with a save percentage of .931 and a 2.00 goals against average. Wednesday night, he was definitely closer to the level of the "since October 20", which is similar to the level of the goaltender who has a .909 career save rate with a 2.65 goals against average that has won nearly two thirds of his starts.
"As of the start of the season, I was thinking too much about all the technical and the little things. At the end of the day I just kind of said to myself 'you know, I'm just going to watch the puck and everything will fall into place'," said Brossoit. "They call it the hangover. Some of it was a little bit of bad luck."
"I'm not going to talk about that," said Oil Kings' coach Derek Laxdal on Brossoit's Memorial Cup performance. "He's like any player, he's trying to find that rut where he'll settle in."
"He's got a goalie coach, Dustin Schwartz, who does an outstanding job with him," said Laxdal, who made the trip to British Columbia for the two Subway Super Series games as an assistant. "He's had a busy summer with the World Junior camp, then a development camp in Calgary, then another camp in June and a long run in the Memorial Cup so these guys lose a bit of energy."
Laxdal said that he expected Brossoit to get the start for the final game of the series in Victoria on Thursday. Unlike the QMJHL and OHL teams that split their goalies in Games Two, Three and Four of the series, Brossoit saw the game all the way through to the end. "He's doing an excellent job right now."
Don Nachbaur of the Spokane Chiefs, who is handling the head coaching duties for Team WHL, wasn't shy about praising Brossoit's Wednesday performance. He made a series of quick moving pad saves in the first period and stopped Evgeni Mozer point blank on a breakaway, hanging tight and leaving his left pad covering a good portion of the net. In the shootout, he made three saves, one on first overall selection Nail Yakupov who slowly weaved his way to the net but failed to budge the lanky Flames prospect.
"Our goalie saved us in the second period," said Nachbaur. "And in the shootout, you've got to give a lot of credit to our goaltender. We ended up having some guys hurt midway through the game, we lost some forwards and basically played shorthanded more than half the game." Team WHL lost Travis Ewanyk at the end of the second period, but their defensive corps was healthy throughout. Nachbaur gave a lot of credit to No. 2 overall pick Ryan Murray for shutting down Yakupov. His shootout attempt was the only legitimate chance the Nizhnekamsk native had, but linemates Alexander Khohklachev and Andrei Sigarev were turned aside in alternate periods by Brossoit's left pad.
On his other two shootout stops, Brossoit was a tad more stylish. Vladimir Tkachev tried a quick deke to his right, but Brossoit snatched the puck out of the air with his glove. Sigarev tried to move in lower, but Brossoit's pad and glove held tight low around his left post and the Russian had nowhere to go. At the other end, shootout goals were scored by Hunter Shinkaruk, Mark McNeill and Sam Reinhart to clinch the game for Team WHL.
"He's got experience at the national level and he's on the radar for the national team. He didn't disappoint. He was outstanding. In the last couple of weeks he's been great. And because of that, he's brought in a game that he's had in Edmonton in the last few weeks, so to me it wasn't a fluke" said Nachbaur. "On the other side, yeah, he didn't have a great summer, but, redemption."
For all the talk about redemption, however, Brossoit acted the part of the same humble goaltender going back to the spring when he was named the most valuable player of the WHL playoffs. "Like I said before I'm feeling back to the top of my game and I'm seeing the puck a little more clearly."