It looks like Team Canada's plan was to give the all-important goaltending gig to Malcolm Subban no matter what.
Supporters of Canada at the world junior championship know all too well about the national junior team's miscalculations and misfortunes finding someone to be The Man in the middle. In 2012, coach Don Hay's shuffling between Mark Visentin and Scott Wedgewood became a distraction. The season prior, Visentin took over before the medal round after 19-year-old Olivier Roy faltered in the round-robin finale vs. Sweden.
Subban, the the Belleville Bulls goalie and Boston Bruins first-round choice, was decent in Canada's opening 9-3 win over Germany, stopping 25-of-28 shots. (The goals came on a power play, on a 2-on-1 rush after a bad player change and off a turnover). That might have been enough to earn the start vs. Slovakia on Friday (4:30 a.m./1:30 a.m. PT, TSN/RDS). Or it might not have mattered at all. Subban is The Man for a country yearning for steady goaltending at WJC.
Steve Spott says he will ride Subban for entire tournament. Barring injury, unlikely Binnington will get in net. #SunWorldJuniors
— Terry Koshan (@koshtorontosun) December 26, 2012
Subban, who thrives at blocking the lower half of the net, made a bang-bang set of stops on Germany's Frederek Tiffels and Christian Kretschmann during the first period, which ended 2-1. His best save was going post-to-post in the third period to deny Edmonton Oilers fourth-rounder Tobias Rieder; that came during a long sequence when the teams played nearly 10 minutes without a whistle. Yet Subban stayed focused.
"I felt that I was nervous in the first two periods," Subban told TSN. "I talked to [Team Canada goalie coach Ron] Tugnutt, I calmed down ... It was a matter of stop and set for every shot. The first two periods, I was sliding around too much."
Subban arguably has a better body of work in the OHL than Binnington. Spott could also be more loyal to the netminder, who was good for the national junior team during the Canada-Russia Challenge series in August. Binnington was not part of the summer squad.
"Malcolm was good and he'll be in again in Game 2," Spott told TSN.
Canada's collective fretting over goaltending probably traces to the 2010 gold-medal game, when Jake Allen was pulled for Martin Jones during the third period of an eventual 6-5 overtime loss to Team USA. But Hockey Canada has hardly been infallible when it comes to picking a netminder to bet on between the pipes, even when it has gone on to win the world junior. In 2009, it had to win two high-scoring games vs. the U.S. (7-4 in the round-robin) and Russia (6-5 in OT in the semi) to reach the final. A season earlier, coach Craig Hartsburg replaced Justin Bernier with Steve Mason during the round-robin before going on guide the club to gold.
Back in the present, the hope is apparently that Subban will improve as he adapts to the role.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (video: TSN).