UFA, Russia – Malcolm Subban’s acrobatics, experience and flair has made him Canada’s starting goaltender at the world junior hockey championship for now.
Instead of letting the goaltending question linger deep into the tournament, coach Steve Spott felt it better to end speculation after Canada’s opening game and infuse Subban with the confidence of knowing he’s the man in net for the tournament.
“Malcolm’s play is going to dictate how far he goes, but right now he’s the guy we’re going to continue to run with and it’s going to be up to him to carry the ball,” the coach said Thursday.
The Belleville Bulls goalie has size, reach and speed, plus familiarity with the wider ice in Europe because Belleville’s Yardman Arena is the same size. Subban, six foot two and 200 pounds, sells his glove saves with a flick of the wrist, which tells the players in front of him “I got his.”
“I feel like making those saves obviously helps a lot and making them a little fancy gives the team a little confidence,” Subban said. “Just knowing your coaches have the confidence in you, that you’re going to play all the games, that helps a lot obviously as well.”
So after stopping 25 of 28 shots in Canada’s 9-3 win over Germany to open the tournament, the 19-year-old from Toronto will be back in the net for Friday’s Pool B game versus Slovakia.
Canada tops the pool at 1-0 with three points. The Slovaks forced Russia to overtime Wednesday before the hosts pulled out a 3-2 victory for two points.
A nervous moment in Canada’s practice Thursday was a Boone Jenner collision with defencemen Xavier Ouellet in the neutral zone. Both players got slowly to their feet. Jenner can’t play a game in the tournament until Monday because of a three-game suspension.
“They’re both fine,” Spott said. “I just went and checked on them.”
Subban’s point-blank pad save on Germany’s Tobias Rieder in the third period Wednesday demonstrated he can make saves that change the tenor of a game.
“Everyone has seen that save that I don’t think many people could make,” goaltending coach Ron Tugnutt said. “When he makes that save, the bench kind of straightens up and gets excited.
“As a goalie myself, when you make that big save, you feel good about it and you know your team feels good about it.”
The flaw in Subban’s game since the start of selection camp in Calgary has been lapses of concentration resulting in questionable or soft goals.
Jordan Binnington of the Owen Sound Attack is less flamboyant in net, but his solid technique made the goaltending competition interesting at selection camp and in pre-tournament games.
Spott believes Subban has the mental resiliency to recover from gaffes, but prefers the Boston Bruins prospect not make them in the first place.
“These are one-goal games and if our goaltender goes to sleep for one second that could determine a gold or a silver medal,” Spott said.
“If there is a tough goal, he can shake it off and deal with it, but ultimately we have to make sure we don’t give up those soft goals. It’s critical.”
Germany’s three goals on Boxing Day can’t be classified as weak, but Subban was battling nerves for two periods before Tugnutt told him to calm down.
“I was a little bit firmer on him, which I hadn’t been before, and he responded with a really good third period,” Tugnutt said.
Subban started watching the world junior tournament on television at age 12. He felt a personal connection to the 2008 and 2009 championships because older brother P.K. was a defenceman on both Canadian teams that won gold.
P.K. Subban now plays in the NHL for the Montreal Canadiens. The Subbans are the seventh brother combination to play for Canada’s junior team.
The others are Freddie and Dougie Hamilton (2012), Luke and Brayden Schenn (2008, 2010-11), Martin and Mathieu Biron (1997, 2000), Scott and Rob Niedermayer (1991-92, 1993), Sylvain and Pierre Turgeon (1983, 1993), and Mike and Randy Moller (1982).
Malcolm Subban has witnessed some of the best and worst experiences of his goaltending predecessors in recent world championships.
Carey Price in 2007 mesmerized the 14-year-old Subban while he watched the performance on a cafeteria television at his local Toronto hockey arena.
Price, now a Habs teammate of his brother’s, stared down the U.S. in a semifinal shootout and was named the tournament MVP while Canada collected gold in Sweden.
Subban has also seen Jake Allen get pulled in the 2010 final against the U.S., Mark Visentin give up five third-period goals to Russia in the 2011 championship game, and Scott Wedgewood leave the 2012 semifinal against Russia with an injury after allowing four goals on 14 shots.
“It’s a tough position,” Subban acknowledged. “There’s a lot of responsibility that goes into the goaltending job.
“The thing I’ll try to build on is playing a full 60 minutes. I remember the one a couple of years ago when Russia was down three-nothing and came back and won. (I”ll) just try and not let that happen I guess.”