Assessing Canada’s goaltending options for the 2021 World Junior Championship

If we’ve learned anything about the Canadian national junior team, it’s that picking the three goalies for the World Junior Championship half a year in advance is an exercise in triggers migrane-inducing comas.

But I don’t care. I get a few migraines each week, so what’s another one?

Once again, there’s no clear favorite to go No. 1. Let’s not forget the wide-open race heading to camp last year, with no true favorite emerging until the second half of the main event. Nico Daws emerged from out of nowhere to go from a mid-level undrafted prospect to the top North American option for 2020, and he even got a shot as Canada’s starter in the Czech Republic. It didn’t last long and Joel Hofer stole the spotlight afterwards, but even Hofer wasn’t necessarily a favorite heading into camp, either. Colten Ellis and Alexis Gravel looked like favorites heading into the summer, but neither made it to December’s selection camp roster.

Remember when I mentioned projecting how the goaltenders would do was migraine-inducing? Can you see why now?

Unfortunately for Canadians, the easy decisions that made the Carter Hart and Michael DiPietro years so easy to predict just aren’t possible this time around… again. Canada has a few intriguing options, but if the Canadians are going to win gold for the third time in four years, someone is going to need to step up. We’re far past the days where Canada just needed adequate netminding to seal the deal, and with the tournament on home soil again, the pressure is on.

Canada’s (virtual) summer goalie camp began this weekend, with five goaltenders named to the U-20 edition. Ideally, Canada can pinpoint their top options from this camp and ride them out into the fall, but with no actual hockey being played during the camp, and with no true start day for the 2020-21 season, it’s still largely a guessing game.

I’ve broken the options into three groups: the players that actually were invited to camp, the other longshot options that could sneak their way into the conversation and the actual NHL prospects. The third group, however, might be the weakest, as weird as it sounds. The top drafted goalie prospects – Hunter Jones and Colten Ellis – missed eligibility by being late 2000-born goalies selected in a draft dominated by 2001-born kids. Both were favorites to make the team a year ago, to no avail.

So now, let’s get digging:

The camp invites

Taylor Gauthier (Prince George Cougars, WHL)
Older goalies typically have a better shot at the starting role and despite playing on a below-average Cougars club, Gauthier has proven time and time again that he can give his team a fighting chance. Undrafted in 2019, Gauthier put up an impressive .917 save percentage and improved some of the inconsistencies in his game, such as his rebound control and blocker positioning. With 105 starts over the past two years, Gauthier has only been surpassed by Dustin Wolf’s 107 in terms of game action so Hockey Canada should have a clear book on Gauthier’s play – his 11 starts for Canada internationally should help, too, and we know the big dogs at HC love experience. If Gauthier is equal to any of the other top options, expect him to get the starting gig, but we know so much can change.

Dylan Garand (Aaron Bell/CHL Images)

Dylan Garand (Kamloops Blazers, WHL)
One of the biggest issues with drafting goaltenders is that by the time they hit eligibility, they likely haven’t been a starter for that long. But since Garand was selected by Kamloops in 2017, there’s been hints of greatness along the way for one of the better Canadian goaltenders for the 2020 draft. Recently named the WHL’s scholastic player of the year, Garand had a handful of pure brilliant performances in net this season and his .921 save percentage was good for third among netminders with at least 20 starts. Garand proved this season that he could handle a heavy 46-game workload and scouts have lauded his improved mental game for allowing him to take his game to a higher level. If Hockey Canada looks for the goalie with more experience, then Garand will have to wait an extra year to earn the starting gig, but a strong start to the 2020-21 season will make it tough for Canada to sit Garand too long.

Tristan Lennox (Saginaw Spirit, OHL)
If I had to make a long-term projection, Lennox is going to have the best NHL career out of the five options. But Hockey Canada isn’t in the business of giving players a spot solely based on potential, and that’s why I don’t think Lennox is going to be the starting goaltender. With a 27-10-5 record over two seasons in OHL, in the OHL and a 5-0-0 run in two international tournaments for Canada, Lennox hasn’t had an issue putting wins on the board, but his sophomore OHL campaign didn’t meet expectations – perhaps his leg injury from the Hlinka-Gretzky had a long-term effect? His .876 save percentage in domestic action was far from impressive but there’s high hopes for the athletic netminder in 2020-21. Don’t expect him to get any starts at the tournament, but he’ll use it as a stepping stone for the 2022 tournament.

Brett Brochu (London Knights, OHL)
Brouchu had a stellar OHL rookie campaign, going 32-6-0 with a .919 save percentage and a league-leading 2.40 GAA with the always spectacular London Knights. For reference, he made the jump up for the draft year after spending a year in Junior C of all places, so it’s safe to say Brochu wasn’t on the draft – or Hockey Canada’s radar – heading into 2019-20. For a goalie to jump up three leagues to become an OHL star is nearly unheard of, but Brochu’s numbers rivaled that of the league’s most experienced veterans and forced Hockey Canada to take notice. Kind of like Daws, Brochu’s rise shows that there could be some more untapped potential in the pipeline for the 2020 draft prospect and a strong candidate for selection camp – but let’s see if he can maintain what made him so good this past season.

Sebastian Cossa (Edmonton Oil Kings, WHL)
Speaking of fantastic rookie performances, Cossa once again proved why he was one of the best goaltenders of his age group growing up. After two years of carrying his weight and continuously giving Fort Saskatchewan a chance to win at the U-18 level, Cossa put up a 21-6-3 record with a .921 save percentage with the Edmonton Oil Kings. Named the WHL’s player of the month for December, the big, 6-foot-5 goaltender had some incredible streaks throughout the season, highlighted by a 6-1-1-0 record during that month before helping the Oil Kings become one of the top contenders out west. He’s got the starter role locked up again for 2020-21 – his NHL draft season – but will his younger age scare off Hockey Canada?

The rising guns

Will Cranley (Ottawa 67s, OHL)
The No. 4-ranked North American goaltender by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service, Cranley has a good mix of size, athleticism and mental toughness that teams are searching for in a modern-day netminder. Cedrick Andree was the main man in Ottawa this season but can you really ignore Cranley and his 18-2-0 record and his tremendous raw skillset? Cranley didn’t get the bulk of the starts but he is capable of being an OHL starter, so it’ll be interesting to see if the 67s end up moving him or Andree this summer.

Antoine Coulombe (Shawinigan Cataractes, QMJHL)
It often feels like QMJHL goaltenders don’t get a fair shake at the World Junior Championship for Canada, but Coulombe is one looking to change that. His play improved big time in 2019-20, helping Shawinigan graduate from being the laughing stock of the league (his 4-24-2 record and 5.19 GAA in 2018-19 was brutal, to say the least) to a better-but-still-not-great organization this past season. Growing up, Coulombe was considered the top Quebec-born goaltender from the 2002 age group and he proved that by starting off hot with just one goal allowed in his first three games of the season in Shawinigan. Coulombe hasn’t had a chance to prove himself with a competent team in front of him in major junior, so his stats will always look revolting, but if the technically sound and athletically gifted netminder was given a shot at camp, I have full confidence that he’d rise to the occasion.

The NHL prospects

Carter Gylander (Colgate University, NCAA)
He’s a longshot, especially since he’s only played in Jr. A, but I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if Detroit’s seventh-round pick in 2019 is given a shot. He played for a strong Sherwood Park Crusaders club in the AJHL, but with a 51-9-0 record in the AJHL, he has a ton of wins on his resume – not to mention an appearance with Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge back in December, so Hockey Canada knows what he’s capable of. There’s hope Gylander can lead Colgate after Andrew Farrier and Mitch Benson split duties this past season, and if he does, Gylander will be an attractive option for the world junior team – but that’s assuming the anti-NCAA bias doesn’t kick in.

Trent Miner (Vancouver Giants, WHL)
With David Tendeck set to join the Arizona Coyotes organization, it’s time for Trent Miner to show what he’s worth. A seventh-round pick by Colorado in 2019, Miner had a bit of a down year with the Giants (the team as a whole did, too), but he showed he can handle the starting gig when needed. Again, this boils down to how well he starts the season in Vancouver, but I wouldn’t count him out, even if he’s a longshot from the get-go.

Which three goalies do you think Team Canada is going to bring? Tweet me at @StevenEllisNHL.

Logan Delaney: A Story of Unity and an Unimaginable Dream

Playing for your home country is a special honor. For some, it’s a chance to prove that they’re one of the greatest players in the world. For others, it’s the best moment of their life, and something that only a select few individuals will ever have a chance to enjoy.

Cole Harbour, N.S.’s Logan Delaney was fortunate enough to be a part of a truly special event. Home to a guy you’re probably very familiar with on the Pittsburgh Penguins, Cole Harbour has turned out to be a solid location for Team Canada hopefuls in the past. With Sidney Crosby winning on pretty much every stage, as well as Nathan MacKinnon recently winning gold at the World Championships, Canada’s connection to the Nova Scotian’ community has been immense.

So how does Delaney, a little known hockey player, fit into the equation?

Usually, players who get named to Team Canada events are participating in a major professional league somewhere in the world. But for Delaney, whose short junior hockey career saw him play two games with the Cobourg Cougars of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, that wasn’t the case.

At the age of 16, Delaney, who was living in Barrie, Ont. at the time, was forced to miss a year of hockey after receiving a skull fracture from a hit from behind. He would eventually return to the game, despite medical advice urging him to stop, to try out for the QMJHL’s Moncton Wildcats. He’d eventually try another comeback in Junior A, but after a short period of time, the budding young player would have to quit for the time being due to post-concussion symptoms.

Fast forward to 2014. Delaney, 31-years-old at the time, received an email that would make anyone suspicious. Hockey Canada was looking to put a team together for the upcoming Pan-American Ice Hockey Tournament in Mexico City, a new event aimed at helping the development of countries with limited hockey resources.

You could imagine the confusion when asked to join a high profile team in such an obscure event.

“Getting asked to play was a confusing whirlwind of events to say the least,” Delaney said. “We were all contacted predominantly by email, which the majority of us thought was fake. We had to be reassured by Hockey Canada staff that it was in fact real. After doing a lot of research online into this event, clearly we jumped on it.”

Many Canadians are familiar with the Pan-Am Games, an event heading to Toronto this coming summer. But ice hockey isn’t involved with that type of event, so what exactly was this newfangled tournament? To most of the players asked, it seemed more like spam. When you take a look at the players involved, with many not making past the college or junior ranks, it’s understandable that there may have been a little bit of skepticism involved.

“I was coaching Atom “AAA” hockey. I was at a game in the dressing room and my email went off. My old buddy Matt Keer is good buddies with Ross MacLean, who is a development coordinator with Hockey Canada. Kerrsy sends this email to several of us in Nova Scotia. It says “boys, your one and only chance to play for Team Canada, read the info below and get back to me ASAP.

“I (was) confused. And excited. I went home and gave my six-month pregnant wife my phone and told her to read it. She’s says “what the &$!k”, so I spent the next two hours Googling the hell out of it. Info was scarce. I didn’t care. I jumped on it. I thought it was a joke, but I didn’t take the chance. I texted Kerrsy the next day cause I was skeptical. He didn’t know what else he could do to convince us it was real. The email was from Hockey Canada, signature and everything. All the other guys felt the same way. Guys from Hockey Canada were literally calling us and identifying themselves to try to prove it wasn’t a joke.

“A couple other buddies here were asked and said no because they thought it was a joke,” mentioned Delaney, who was familiar with other players that received invitations. “In the email thread I wrote back “am I the only one seriously considering this?” Geoff Sanford replied “yes, you idiot.”

As you can imagine, the feeling was surreal for Delaney. Here he is, a hockey coach in Nova Scotia, now getting asked to represent his country in a brand new, unique tournament.

“It was so shocking in the beginning. As a kid you watch world juniors every year. Seeing that jersey is a staple of everyone’s home, and then all of a sudden, three weeks from receiving the invite, you are going to be wearing the exact same one in a country that no hockey player from Canada has ever been.”

On March 3, 2014, Canada’s adventure to become the first-ever Pan-Am hockey champions started in the most positive way possible. Taking on Colombia just a day after their opponents grabbed their inaugural hockey win against Argentina, former SJHL Player of the Year Kyle Reed led the way by scoring a hat-trick for Canada in an eventual 9-3 victory.

But it wasn’t the victory that really stood out for Delaney.

“We tapped our sticks on the ice out of respect (a IIHF pre-game tradition) and to be honest we never thought much of it. It’s just what “we” do. Later that night, while enjoying some club sodas in the hotel lounge bar, two of their players came up to us. They told us that seeing all of us lined up on the blue line, in the famous Team Canada uniforms, tapping our sticks and cheering for them, Columbia, was the most surreal moment of their lives. One player said he had tears in his eyes. 

“We couldn’t believe it. And I think at that moment after he told us that, we realized us being here meant a lot more than we ever could of thought.”

Canada’s tournament was as dominant as it could be. With former AHLer James Reid putting up a solid performance in net, Canada would go on to finish with a perfect 4-0 record, scoring 49 goals and allowing just six in that time span. The good results weren’t to be unexpected in a tournament that, on paper, was expected to be very one-sided, but again, it wasn’t about the hockey. It was about the experience.

“I remember our first practice. Putting on the gear in the room, we all looked at each other and said “we’re really doing this?”. Then you step on the ice and (see) the big Mexico logo at center. It was crazy simply thinking about it.”

Playing at the brand new Ice Dome in Mexico City was surely a challenge. In fact, the arena was still not even completely built by the time the tournament was hosted. In Canada, you don’t need to drive very far to find a few arenas within a two mile radius. But in Mexico, just getting a single ice surface ready proved to be a tough task.

“A couple drills into practice, we cut the ice so bad our skates were hitting the concrete. The rink guys were still learning about ice maintenance. Here we are after practice in tracksuits on the ice helping them repair it. The rink guys loved it. We were having a blast. One morning we came in for practice and I’ll be damned if the ice was melted. It looked like a lake. We sat there scratching our heads. No big deal, we went out for a good meal instead.”

Hockey is filled with rivalries. Typically, Canada hates the Russians, Sweden dislikes the Finns and Latvia and Switzerland tend to have some pretty interesting battles on the ice. So when you stories about teams staying together for a week of hockey competition, that would probably stand out as something that seems rather strange.

Not at the Pan-American Ice Hockey Tournament.

“All the countries, except Mexico, stayed in the same hotel,” Delaney said. “Our accommodations were absolutely fantastic. So we were around Columbia, Argentina, and Brazil quite often. They were all really great guys. Constantly chatting with us, wanting to hear stories about Canadian hockey. However, we were more interested in hearing about hockey at home for them! It was fascinating listening to them talk about the game at home. We all had our story of where we came from, and how we ended up there, but hearing theirs was incredible. The cultural difference was really interesting.

“We shared a bus home with the Colombian team once. They had a stereo with them blaring Colombian dance music and singing. We didn’t know what to do so we started dancing at the back of the bus. It was absolutely hysterical and awesome. The boys loved it. I can honestly say that they loved having us there. We would invite them places, and made sure that if a cold one was around, they would get one too.”

Once the tournament came to a close, it wasn’t a Canadian player on top of the scoring charts. In fact, Mexican scoring stars Carlos Gomez and Adrian Cervantes, as well as American college player Daniel Echeverri, took home the top three spots after five games. Initially, you would assume that Canada, with all their hockey resources, would come out and dominate the scoring department, but when you get players out there, knowing that it’s the opportunity of a lifetime, you see incredible performances from players you’ll likely never hear from again.

“I think they (the other teams) were nervous to a degree, figuring we would go out and run them over through the glass,” said Delaney. “Once they recognized our character, I think that aspect disappeared. Playing them was a lot of fun. We had some good laughs with them, and don’t kid yourself, there was some excellent hockey players floating around those teams. Mexico could play, and arguably the best player in the whole tourney was from Colombia.”

Off the ice, however, was where the real story was.

“I watched one of our players, Mike Sullivan, give a kid in the crowd his stick after a game,” recalled Delaney, who scored two goals for Canada during the tournament. “The kids parents ran down to Sully and hugged him. I listened to a guy from Argentina tell me he spent his families life savings to build a hockey rink, and he lives in it. All of it was truly amazing, and incredible. People back home think that we just went there to steamroll these countries. They could never understand, it meant so much more.

“It’s humbling to know that a Brazilian hockey player goes home to his two kids and tells them all about how their dad played hockey against Team Canada, and made history. (That same player went out of his way to congratulate me on the birth of my daughter two months later). Hockey is Canada’s game. But we want to share it with the world. And seeing these countries play the game purely for the love of it, it’s what makes it special. Us playing against Mexico while 3000 people watched, maybe 500 of them became hockey fans for life. And that’s special. Knowing that we might have had a part in that.”

Back on the ice, Canada still had a job to do. While their main objective was to help support smaller hockey nations, Canada still went to Mexico with one task in mind: winning a gold medal. Just a few weeks prior, the top national team, featuring stars such as Sidney Crosby and Carey Price, went on to win the gold medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, giving Canada their third Olympic title in the past four tournaments.

Over in Mexico, a lesser known Canadian team found themselves battling for a gold medal of their own.

On March 9th, Canada and Mexico took to the ice for the gold medal game, their second meeting of the tournament Earlier in the event, Canada went on to beat the Mexicans 6-3, proving to be Canada’s toughest test at the end of the tournament. With the hosts coming in with a lot to prove, the team entered the finals with hopes of somehow finding a way of putting Canada’s gold medal hopes to sleep.

That wouldn’t be the case, unfortunately. Michael Sullivan did the most damage for the Canadians, scoring two goals in an eventual 7-0 victory to secure the gold medal. It was their lowest scoring shutout of the tournament, thanks to big victories over Argentina and Brazil, but it was easily their most important victory. For most of the players involved, it was the greatest moment of their hockey lives.

Even for some people not involved with the team.

“The Canadian embassy hosted us one morning,” recounted Delaney. “Pretty cool stuff. (We) met the ambassador and the staff. Afterwards we had lunch at a nice spot. Were all sitting there and an older fella walked in, probably in his late 50’s. His name was Marco and he flips out, “Oh my god you’re Team Canada!” So were shooting the breeze with him, and he tells us to stay and that he will be right back. He runs to his office and grabs a picture off the wall and runs back. It’s a picture of him and his beer league hockey team, 20 years ago, in Mexico City. He was so proud to tell us that he plays hockey. You couldn’t have believed it unless you saw it.

“So, we beat Mexico in the final. Rink is packed solid. We’re on the ice celebrating and getting pictures and whatnot. I look up and hear this guy yelling wearing a (Doug) Gilmour Maple Leafs jersey. It’s Marco! I skate over and tell the security guard to get him and bring him on the ice. This guy was on cloud nine. How cool is that?”

Looking back at the tournament over a year later still brings back great memories for Logan Delaney. Playing for the Canadian national team tends to be reserved for players on top of the hockey world. Crosby. Gretzky. Lemieux. Eberle. Iginla. Sakic. And yet, a little known player from Nova Scotia would become a gold medalist for the most iconic nation in hockey.

“Did I ever think I would have the chance to win a gold medal for my country? No, never,” said Delaney, whose Canadian team will not be returning to Mexico City this year. 

“Now I have a ring, and that jersey I once dreamed of wearing I have at home forever to keep. It’s a hockey fairy tale. I couldn’t describe it any other way.

Did Canada need to go to a smaller event like the Pan-Am games? They were surely not obligated to. What’s another medal to the country that lives and breathes the sport every single day?

It wasn’t about the medal. It was about creating a much more global presence for the sport we all love.

“Leaving there winning gold was one thing,” Delaney pointed out. “But in all truthfulness, leaving knowing that we made such a positive lasting impression on the hockey community in other countries was what left the biggest impact. And the lasting impression those other countries left on us was even greater.

“I know our trainer, Chuck Dufton, has been working with the Mexican federation over the past year, really working hard on hockey safety initiatives,” said Delaney. “Tom Renney has been working with Deigo De La Garma, the president of hockey in Mexico, mentoring the development. Dicky Haiek, the Argentinian president, has been working on skill development models through our coach Corey McNabb. And I know some of our players, myself included, have been in conversations of possibly going to these countries to work with minor hockey development as well. It’s been extremely positive, and the opportunities to continue the relationships we earned are great.”

When the 2015 edition of the tournament begins in June, the Pan-American Ice Hockey Tournament will feature six teams, one more than last year. But despite the added team, the event will move on without a Canadian team, giving a chance for someone different to grab the title. Surely, the impact of Canada’s participation last year helped the developing nations in a big way, including the Mexicans, who went on to grab a bronze medal at the D2B World Championships. The support in Argentina helped lead to a second team in the tournament, a big step in the right direction for a team with very little hockey experience.

While the tournament begins a new chapter back in Mexico, Delaney and the rest of the Canadians can kick back and reminisce in an opportunity of a lifetime for a group of unsuspecting candidates. They could end up being the only Canadians to ever participate in the tournament, an event that will hopefully live on for years to come.

And yet, it all started with one sketchy looking email.

“It was a fairytale, and it still is.”

Follow me on Twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.

This story was originally published in 2015 on TheHockeyHouse.net.