COPENHAGEN - It may very well be the most important position on the ice, but it is the one position where there is no competition to make the Canadian world junior team. Only two goalies were invited to the country's selection camp, meaning Saginaw's Jake Paterson and Halifax's Zach Fucale are guaranteed spots on the final 22-man roster.
"In previous years they would be competing and right now we'd have two other goalies and it would make their job a lot harder," explained Hockey Canada's goalie consultant Fred Brathwaite. "Now, they're coming in here and we're trying to make their game better day in, day out and get them ready for the tournament."
The decision to take some of the pressure off of the netminders took Paterson by surprise.
"I had no idea that it was just going to be the two goalies at camp," the Detroit Red Wings prospect admitted. "I thought it would be the usual four. Obviously, to get that news was a relief."
Paterson took full advantage of the goalie competition at the 2012 selection camp. He entered the event as an under-dog to crack the roster, but stopped all 33 shots faced over three games to steal a job from Laurent Brossoit.
Paterson's edge in the competition to be starter this time around is his age and experience as Canada's third goalie at last year's competition in Ufa, Russia, where Malcolm Subban started all but one game with Jordan Binnington getting the call for the bronze-medal game. The 19-year-old Paterson, a year older than Fucale, learned a lot despite not seeing a second of action.
"Probably the biggest thing was how hard the tournament is to win with the one-game elimination in the medal round and, as well, how important it is to come together as a team. That stood out as well," he said.
And while Hockey Canada has often times leaned toward older players when it comes to doling out responsibility at this event (Sutter, for example, went with two 19-year-olds in goal at the 2006 tournament cutting 18-year-old Carey Price at the selection camp), it is actually Fucale who owns the better big-game track record, including a gold medal at the 2012 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament and a Memorial Cup title last May.
"I think the Memorial Cup is very similar [to the world junior championship] with just five or six games so it's very similar: you got to be at your best every night and there's no second chances, no turning back, you got to make sure you're well prepared and ready to play," said Fucale, who was the top goalie selected in June's NHL draft getting scooped up by the Montreal Canadiens early in the second round.
"You just want to be as prepared as you can come into the games. I think that's key. When there's a pressure situation, a lot at stake, you have to be well-prepared and whenever you are well-prepared you can't be scared of anything, because you did everything to be ready for that game."
Fucale has an edge in the early-season numbers this season. Paterson has posted a 3.64 GAA and .900 save-percentage in 22 games in the OHL, while Fucale has a 2.51 GAA and .902 save-percentage in 28 games in the QMJHL.
Paterson and Fucale are expected to split the starts in the first two pre-tournament games, on Friday against the Finns and Sunday against the Swedes. Who starts the final tune-up on Monday against the Swiss may provide a good indication of who will also get the honour of starting on Boxing Day when Canada opens the tournament against Germany. Sutter has made it clear he wants the battle to be the No. 1 goalie to wrap-up sooner rather than later.
"I think you got to have somewhat of a clear mind about who your guy is going to be and start with it that way and if you have to change you can always change," said Sutter. "I don't think you can rotate in the tournament. I think you got to get someone really solid and hot going into it and that's our goal. But, at the same time, you got four round-robin games and the other guy has to play in at least one of them."
Sutter leaned heavily on his starter in his two previous tenures behind Canada's world junior bench. In 2006, Justin Pogge started all six games en route to being named tournament MVP. Devan Dubnyk was the backup. In 2005, Jeff Glass got five starts, while Rejean Beauchemin got one. Sutter hinted that this time around the backup will probably get at least one game.
Whoever plays will be facing sky-high pressure. When the world juniors are held overseas, Canada has never won gold without having the tournament's best goalie. Steve Mason was the last to do it backstopping Canada to gold in 2008 in the Czech Republic. Paterson and Fucale are well aware of all the hand-wringing about Canada's so-called crisis in the crease and have tuned it out.
"Obviously, I've heard a lot about that the last couple of years, but I think it's out of our control," Paterson said. "Obviously, the results haven't been there the last couple of years, but as far as me and Zach's concerned we're just looking to have a good couple of practices here."
"We heard a little bit of talk about it," said Fucale, "but, you know, the last four, five years, I'm pretty sure they've been doing their best to give the team a chance to win and all I want to do, me and Jake, we want to be prepared and coming into the first game want to be in top shape.
"You got to make sure everyone's ready to play. Me, the goalie, you have to make a difference. I'm just looking forward to that first game."