Olivier Roy has a message for the rest of the world: Take your best shot.
He’s used to being peppered with pucks on a regular basis with the QMJHL’s Acadie-Bathurst Titan and says the more the merrier.
“Sometimes it depends on the quality of the shots,” Roy says. “But when you are a goalie you love facing shots, you love making saves – that’s what you play for – so I’d love to have more shots, absolutely.”
Team Canada head coach Dave Cameron has yet to decide on his starter, but Roy made his case for the job with a solid performance in his first exhibition start against Sweden, stopping all 15 shots he faced in the first period alone. He averaged an even 30 shots a night over the course of 21 starts with the Titan, where the six-foot, 186-pound netminder has a 2.95 goals against average and a .905 save percentage.
“I think it’s a good number,” says Roy of his steady-as-she-goes workload. “I like a lot of shots and 30 is a good number because you have a little bit of work to do in net and it’s easier to keep you in the game. That’s pretty much the way it’s been all year for me.’’
But even more appealing than Roy’s ability to handle high pressure situations when faced with a shooting gallery, is the fact that he’s been tested since becoming a QMJHL star at 16, when he was a rookie with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.
“He’s a real competitive guy,” says Canadian team goalie consultant Ron Tugnutt. “His best asset is that he can battle through, regardless if things go poorly for him, his battle level is so high that he can get it back on track.”
There was no bigger test, or better character builder for Roy, than Game 1 of the Eagles’ playoff series against the Quebec Remparts in 2009 where he held the fort for Cape Breton through three extra frames before teammate Robert Slaney scored almost 13 minutes into the fourth overtime period. It was a 3-2 victory with Roy making 65 saves, but more importantly it happened at the Colisée Pepsi in Quebec City in front of 12,331 hostile fans – and Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy, who coaches the Remparts.
“I spoke with him about that game and he said it was the best experience of his life,” says Canadian team assistant coach Andre Tourigny, who also coaches the QMJHL’s Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. “The Quebec fans are really fanatics, so Olivier heard a lot of boos.”
Roy, who’s not related to the Hall of Famer, says the only other time he’s played in front of that many fans was during his sole exhibition start against Sweden at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre – only this time it was much different.
“It was the first time I was playing on the home team and people were cheering for my team,” says Roy, who wanted to be a goaltender after watching New Jersey Devils star Martin Brodeur as a child. “It was great.”
As far as Tugnutt is concerned though, it was Mark Visentin, the 18-year-old netminder for the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs, that had the more difficult test while playing against the weaker Swiss squad. During that game, an 8-0 Canada rout, Visentin faced a total of 20 shots. The first-round pick of the Phoenix Coyotes said he found it difficult to focus and tried his best to stay alert by talking to his teammates – and himself.
“It’s definitely easier to get the heavy workload to get into the game,” said Tugnutt, himself a former goaltender who played for 16 NHL seasons. “At times during that [Swiss] game I felt bad for Mark… he had a soft play on one puck and it went through the crease and after it was over I could see him shaking his head, I think he was literally trying to wake himself up. You’re in the game and you’re focused, but not to the extent that you are when you’re getting the shots.”
Visentin also got the call for Canada’s final game against Finland when he made 18 saves in a 5-2 victory in Kitchener.
Cameron has a history of having two great goaltenders with the Majors franchise he’s coached in the OHL. In the past he’s had tandems like NHLer Peter Budaj and former OHL goaltender of the year Andy Chiodo, Chiodo and NHLer Justin Peters, and more recently reigning OHL goaltender of the year Chris Carrozzi and San Jose Sharks prospect J.P. Anderson – who was a late cut from Canada’s camp this year. He says the decision of who to play in the tournament is different because unlike his OHL team, he’s unfamiliar with Roy and Visentin.
“When I have a goalie all year, I know him,” Cameron says. “You spend time with a kid all day, all year, sometimes two or three years, you know them. Here I don’t, and that’s the biggest difference.”
He says the decision as to who will start will ultimately be a collaborative process between the Hockey Canada staff.
“I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know anything about goaltending,” says the former NHL forward with a laugh. “And I didn’t get smart in the last week about goaltending, so it’s going to be a group thing.”
Roy says at this point there’s nothing he or Visentin can really work on to prepare for the tournament, which begins on Boxing Day in Buffalo when Canada faces the highly skilled Russian squad. But he says the pair are always eager to hear whatever coaching tips Tugnutt has to share.
“He gives us advice sometimes,” Roy says. “He played a long time in the NHL so having a chance to work with him is a privilege for us.”
Tugnutt, however, believes that in a short tournament like the world juniors, Canada’s mindset will be to run with one goalie – whoever has the hottest hand – to the final unless they falter along the way.
“It’s very difficult to judge between the two, we have two great goalies,” Tugnutt says. “So to sit there and try to decide who will play, is and will be a very difficult decision for us. The good news is that everyone is very comfortable knowing we have two good goalies and that’s the most important thing. Both these guys have great pedigrees; one of them [Visentin] is a NHL first-round pick and the other [Roy] is just a player that’s been battle tested and he’s a warrior, so we like the combination of those two.”
Ultimately, though, it’ll be Cameron’s call which goalie will carry Canada in net, and he’s already playing the odds.
“I just figure I have a 50-per-cent chance of picking the right one.”
Sunaya Sapurji is the Junior Hockey Editor at Yahoo! Sports. She can be reached at email@example.com