REGINA – There was no question for team management who are the four best 19-and-under goaltenders in Canada, but a huge decision looms on who are the best two.
Jake Allen, Matt Hackett, Martin Jones and Olivier Roy are in a tight battle at the team selection camp for the two spots for goalies on the Canadian squad that will play at the world junior championship Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Regina and Saskatoon.
Allen, of the Montreal Juniors, is the front-runner because of his greater national and international experience, but none of the other three can be counted out.
“They’ve been consistent throughout the year and, in such a short event, consistency is crucial,” goaltending coach Ron Tugnutt said Monday. “This is going to be a fight to the end for these guys.”
Roy, of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, is the shootout king. The six-foot-four Jones, of the Calgary Hitmen, has the widest wingspan. And Hackett, of the Plymouth Whalers, has the best regular season numbers among the four.
“We’ll discuss them as a group,” Tugnutt added. “We’re in a good situation.
“We have coaches from the Quebec, Ontario and the Western leagues and we’ve seen them quite a bit during the season. And I’ve been scouting them for a month and a half.”
The four were deemed the best at the end of last season and were the only goalies invited to the Canadian team’s summer camp. Others were looked at since then, particularly in the Subway Series last month against a visiting Russian team, but none could dislodge the quartet battling for spots this week at the Brandt Centre.
“That isn’t saying there aren’t other really good goalies in the country, but at this point we feel these are the four guys at the top,” said Canadian head scout Al Murray.
A note of interest is that there is one from each of Canada’s four main regions. Allen is from Fredericton, Roy is from Causapscal, Que., Hackett from London, Ont., and Jones from North Vancouver.
It would be a surprise if Allen doesn’t make it. The six-foot-two St. Louis Blues prospect has a history with Hockey Canada, having won gold at the 2008 world under-18 championship in Russia, where he was named tournament MVP.
He is the only one of the four who was invited to last year’s world juniors camp and he was close to making that team.
“I feel a little more ready this time,” said Allen, also a scratch golfer who played on the New Brunswick provincial team in 2004 and 2005. “It’s a short and sweet camp.
“You don’t have time to make any mistakes, so you have to be ready each time you’re on the ice.”
Roy, is the youngest of the four at 18 and the shortest at five-foot-11. He was a standout as a 16-year-old in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and last season he stopped all 14 shots he faced in shootouts in the regular season, a talent he has carried into the national camps.
“When we do shootouts, he wins every time,” said Tugnutt. “His numbers in that category are staggering.
“My feeling is that Olivier might be the biggest battler. He fights harder out there. He doesn’t have the textbook style, but his fierce competitiveness raises his game up to that level. The other three are more textbook goaltenders. They play a very confident game. They’re totally in control.”
Roy, an Edmonton Oilers draft pick who is no relation to Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy, calls his play in shootouts “OK.
“The important thing is to keep your team in a game and when you get to a shootout, you have to deal with the pressure and make sure you make the last stop. It’s mostly concentration.”
Hackett is the nephew of former NHL goalie Jeff Hackett, who helps him train in the off-season. With Plymouth, the six-foot-two Minnesota Wild draftee is 16-11-1 with a 2.57 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage in 28 games.
“He gives me tons of advice,” Hackett said of his uncle. “He tells me to keep battling, and if you let one go, get back to the top of your crease and show you’re ready.
“He did a great job last summer helping me get ready, mentally and physically. Growing up, I’d watch him play and I wanted to be like him. And he played one year in the world juniors, so for me to get a spot on this team would be pretty cool.”
Jones grew up around hockey as his father works at GM Place in Vancouver. He is a tidy 15-5-0 with a 2.83 average and .897 save percentage with the powerful Hitmen this season.
“Throughout minor hockey I’ve been on winning teams and we’ve won championships,” the six-foot-four Jones said. “Last year we had a playoff run and went to the finals and ended up losing.
“So I’ve been on both sides of it. I know how to win and how to lose now, so that can only help me from here on out.”
In camp, the four are friendly to one another, but only to a point. They know that come Wednesday, when the final cuts are announced, only two of them will be going to Saskatoon where Canada will play its round robin games.
“It’s intense,” Jones said. “You try not to focus on the other guys.
“I’m worrying about my game. But all four of us are here for a reason. We’re all good goaltenders and I’m sure it’ll be a tough decision.”