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Saturday, January 5, 2013

Game Winning Goal Vs. Russia A Microcosm For Canadian Shortcoming?

Welcome to the Weekend, PuckAddicts!!!

Having watched the entire World Junior Hockey Championship, as well as the preparatory games played by Team Canada, one can't help but wonder if there are issues with Hockey Canada's structure.

The game winning goal versus the Russians brought forth a bunch of issues that can't be ignored. Moving forward, Hockey Canada and its brain trust have to take an objective look at their development model, but the problem stem far beyond the Program Of Excellence.

The Selection Process

For the past five tournaments, there have been questions as far as who is selected to represent Canada in major international tournaments. Does Hockey Canada have an identity for their teams? Recent history would suggest that they don't.

Over the years, the scouting department at Hockey Canada has been tasked with selecting the pool of talent invited to their respective selection camps. However, the selection of players is given primarily to the coaching staff appointed to each team. On most occasions, the coaches are influenced by players they are familiar with, expecting their task of preparing their teams in a short period of time to be lessened by their selections.

Coaches tasked with the privilege of coaching their country's team need to realize that their own players have established chemistry with the other players on their respective club teams. Furthermore, playing together for an extended period of time makes performing on the ice easier, since their is a familiarity between teammates.

The Program of Excellence opens the door to ALL Canadian players. There are a plethora of players, who may be unfamiliar to the coaches, whose skill sets are better suited for international play. It's time for Hockey Canada to take a more proactive role in the selection process. While coaches can still make recommendations on who they may want on their rosters, it remains Hockey Canada's job to select the best players that fit the mold of the type of team they want to put forth.

Goaltending

Canada's inability to produce top quality goaltenders has become a real issue on the international stage in the past few years. While a goaltender's stats alone can be impressive, their technical game is more important in a tournament of the WJC's magnitude.

If we examine the technical aspects of Malcolm Subban's game, for example, there are many reasons why he looked weaker than he actually is.

Let's give him his dues. As a goaltender, his reflexes are incredibly quick and he plays his angles very well. The fact that Belleville plays on a large ice surface help him at the international level from that respect. However, his flexibility and lateral movement, as was exploited in the game winning goal, were weaker than some of his predecessors.

Subban's butterfly was weakened by the lack of flexibility in his knees, and his inability to do a full split. On many occasions, his pads would be down, but the knees would be slightly off the ice, leaving a sizable gap in the area of the five-hole. Also, as seen in overtime, he often slides post to post on his rear-end, as opposed to on his pads, in order to cover as much area down low as possible. Those shortcomings have been apparent since the onset of this year's tournament, and were exploited by the opposition.

A general issue among all Canadian goaltenders is also their willingness to go down quickly when facing a shot. Most goaltending "gurus" use percentages to teach their trade, taking a goalie's athleticism out of the equation altogether. While the butterfly was a surefire way to tend goal in its infancy, adaption dictates that a change in the development model for goalies is required. Some of the more successful goaltenders in the CHL and European junior leagues have already employed a more hybrid approach.

And that's just the beginning. While there are many others issues that Hockey Canada needs to address, including a lack of versatility from their defensemen, correcting these two major issues would go long way to reestablishing Canada's credibility as a hockey power.


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