The 2015 World Juniors begin today and like usual, goaltending is always an interesting topic for discussion. Every year, goaltending always seems to play a huge part in the championships teams title run, whether it be Jack Campbell for the Americans in 2011, Carey Price for Canada in 2007 or Manny Legacé for the Canadians in 1993. It’s been the cause for some upsets, such as some big wins by the Swiss thanks to Benjamin Conz in 2010, as well as major disappointment, such as Canada’s failed duo of Scott Wedgewood and Mark Visentin. The 2015 tournament will feature many talented goaltenders, so take a look at five looking for statement performances in Montreal and Toronto, Canada this year.
5. George Sørensen (Denmark): If you haven’t heard of Sørensen yet, you will have soon. One of bright young talents to come out of Denmark, Sørensen has shined in recent international tournaments with Denmark. While it’s almost guaranteed that he won’t be winning anything at the 2015 World Juniors, he did help Denmark win the 2014 Division 1A tournament with a performance that got him named the Top Player for Denmark. The year prior, he was named the Top Goaltender for the U18 D1A tournament, winning a Gold Medal in the process. To top it all off, the Herning backup goalie in the Danish league won a bronze medal at the U20 D1A tournament, giving him his third medal in five World Junior tournaments. Earlier this month, Sørensen had an incredible World Junior A Challenge, helping his team grab the silver medal after a 60+ save performance against USA in the final game. This will be his third attempt at the U20 tournament, and with it being his first in the main group, Sørensen will have his work truly cut out for him for the first time. If he does, expect him to be this year’s Benjamin Conz as an underrated goaltender that puts on a legendary tournament performance.
4. Zach Fucale (Canada): Canada’s goaltending has been one of the lacking features each year ever since the era that included incredible performances from Justin Pogge, Carey Price and Dustin Tokarski. It’s rare that Canada brings back a goaltender for a second year, but that’s exactly what’s going to happen with newly-traded Quebec Remparts goalie Zach Fucale. Fucale, who won gold at the 2012 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, played fairly well for the Canadians in the 2014 tournament, but his performance wasn’t strong enough to save the team from their disappointing fourth place finish. Fucale is criticized for relying too much on the team in front of him to win, using the 2013 Memorial Cup as starting point for the discussion. However, Fucale has been consistently one of the better goaltenders in the league, posting win total of 32, 45 and 36 over the past three years. If a team like the 2013 Mooseheads, with players such as Jonathan Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon, was going to win the Memorial Cup that year, Fucale had to be a skilled goaltender, and that’s exactly what he proved to be. He’ll be the likely starting goalie for Canada, but with Eric Comrie good enough to also battle for the position, the Montreal Canadiens prospect will have to play spectacularly early on to convince the doubters that he’s good enough to lead the home team to gold.
3. Vitek Vanecek: (Czech Republic): The Czech Republic have a fantastic goalie duo going on. The toughest part may be deciding who decides the most starts between Vitek Vanecek and Daniel Vladar. Vanecek, the more experienced goaltender by a year, should be the guy between the pipes for the majority of the action, and he could simply be one of the top goalies in the entire tournament. Vanecek was drafted 39th overall in the 2014 NHL Draft by the Washington Capitals. He played for the Czech under-18 team over 22 games last season, posting a 2.52 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage. He also logged 38 games (2.64 GAA, .921 save percentage) with the under-20 team for Bili Tygri Liberec in the Czech league. Prior to the NHL Draft last year, Vanecek was 2-1 with a 2.31 goals against and .905 save percentage at the Ivan Hlinka tournament and recorded a 4.50 goals against and .862 save percentage in two games with the Czech’s at the World Junior A Challenge. Will he be able to truly prove himself to the world at the World Juniors? Only time will tell.
2. Thatcher Demko (USA): In 2014, the Vancouver Canucks prospect was brought along as the 3rd goalie in preparation for the 2015 edition where he would get his chance as an 19-year-old starter. Demko has already won a silver in U17 competition and a gold in U18 action, but wasn’t spectacular in either showing. The Boston College puckstopper has been pleasant at the NCAA level, and the more mature dual-citizen of Canada and USA should be one of the better goaltenders in the tournament after proving his worth in recent club hockey action. In 16 games with BC, Demko has a 9-6-1 record to go along with a .927 SP, good to tie him for 21st in the NCAA goalie rankings. Now, that’s not great by any means, but considering the fact that he’s played more games than most goalies ahead of him and his team is relativity average this year, Demko has had to save Boston College in many games already this season. If he doesn’t live up to the challenge, Alexander Nedeljkovic is more than capable of taking over the job if needed, but Demko shouldn’t have to worry about that. He’s damn good.
1. Juuse Saros (Finland): Saros, a prospect of the Nashville Predators, had a 1.57 goals against and .943 save percentage in the tournament last year, a performance that was good enough to to be named to the tournament All-Star Team. His play also caught the attention of the men’s national team, who brought Saros aboard as a backup to Nashville’s current goalie, Pekka Rinne. The team would grab the silver medal, completing the strong season for the Finnish goaltender. The Finns aren’t expected to do as good as the team that Saros led to a gold medal to during the 2014 World Juniors, but that’s exactly why the Finnish puckstopper will shine. Last year, the team didn’t have that high of an expectation following a 7th place finish in 2013, but still managed to grab the championship over their rivals from Sweden, with a large part of the credit going to Saros. Will Saros be able to perform the same heroics as a 19 -year-old in his final tournament performance? Potentially, and if the Finns are going to repeat, it will be on his shoulders once again.
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