Хроника Хоккея


He's just a goalie
31.12.2002. Cole, Cam. National Post

 As Canada prepares to face Kari Lehtonen, Finland's No. 2 overall NHL draft pick and the second coming of Patrick Roy, the coaches and players are singing the same tune

HALIFAX - Think of Germany's Dimitri Patzold as the Hot Goalie Starter Set, and Kari Lehtonen as the real thing.

Tonight at the Metro Centre, the Canadian junior squad that struggled to overcome Patzold's early heroics on Sunday will be looking at the XL version, both in physical size and talent, as Finland's Lehtonen -- selected No. 2 overall by the Atlanta Thrashers in last year's NHL entry draft -- puts a near mythic reputation to the test in a New Year's Eve showdown against the host country.

The key word, say at least a couple of the Canadians, is "mythic."

He's 19. He hasn't played a lick against NHL shooters. He's human, they claim.

"He's a goalie," shrugged the tournament's leading scorer, defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo, whose defence partner and fellow Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick, Ian White, is tied for second.

"You have to get pucks on the net, drive the net and make it tough on him, be in his face all night long. That's what you have to do with great goaltenders, at any level. Keep throwing the lumber at him," said Colaiacovo, who has a goal and six assists in his first three games despite apparently thinking pucks are made of wood.

"We've got great goaltenders ourselves, you can't take that away from us. I don't think we want to get too focused on one goalie."

On the other hand, a year ago Canada came into its final round- robin game having outscored the opposition 26-3, and Lehtonen stoned them 4-1. The comparisons are noteworthy, if not conclusive: Canada is 3-0 again, with 16 goals-for, and three against.

"I've only played against him once, and he stood on his head. There's a reason he went No. 2 overall," said Colaiacovo. "But all goalies have their off-nights."

Jordin Tootoo, a pleasingly direct player who goes from Point A to B in a straight line, ploughing through whatever might be in his path, said that the accepted Western Hockey League method of dealing with a goalie as hot at Lehtonen -- running him -- probably wouldn't go over too well.

"I would, in major junior," grinned Tootoo. "But not here."

Canadian coach Mark Habscheid said he didn't see that happening.

"Jordin's very intelligent. That is not something we would encourage, or ever do. Jordin provides a lot of energy, and he impacts the crowd, our team, and the other team. But he is not a one- dimensional player."

Still, it's a thought. The second highest-rated entry-level goaltender of all time by the most obvious standard -- only American Rick DiPietro (Islanders, No. 1, 2000) has ever gone higher in the draft -- Lehtonen is seen as the wild card that stands between Team Canada and a first-round bye into the tournament semi-finals, avoiding any possibility of seeing Russia before the final.

But Habscheid is wary of such talk, wary of looking ahead, wary of obsessing about a goaltender when the Finns, irrespective of the man between the pipes, are good enough to give Canada problems.

"He's outstanding, he's a world-class goaltender, big, moves real fast, covers a lot of net, reflexes are great," he said. "But with any goaltender, it's difficult to tell your team, 'Shoot for the top right-hand corner, three feet inside the bar.'

"The players that we have are gifted players offensively, and they know how to score goals, it's just important to emphasize getting a lot of pucks on net and getting traffic. They know he's a good goaltender, but we like our shooters, we like the fact that we have skilled players, and we want them to display those talents."

Lehtonen surrendered just two goals in his first two games, and was the Finns' player of the game in a 2-2 tie with the Czech Republic last night, in which his team was outshot 35-19. He has a 1.40 goals-against average in 24 Finnish Elite League games for Jokerit this season. Switzerland lit him up in a 6-2 pre-tournament game Dec. 22, but he didn't play in Canada's 6-3 exhibition win over Finland.

When it has counted, he has been very good. Last night, he was better than that, against a Czech team that skated circles around the Finns.

Odd, isn't it, that of all the terrific goaltenders Canada has produced, an American and a Finn have been more highly-regarded by NHL scouts than any of them? But in Lehtonen's case, the regard evidently isn't misplaced. Before he accepted the evaluation of his amateur scouts, Atlanta GM Don Waddell sent his pro scouting staff to Europe to confirm the rave reviews. No one disagreed: the kid was going to be an NHL star, a potential franchise goaltender.

It may be faint praise to be described by the Finnish coach as the best goalie ever to come out of Finland -- better than, say, Jarmo Myllys? Kari Takko? -- but the way he moves reminds people of Patrick Roy, one of Lehtonen's goaltending heroes.

The Canadians seem to be collecting themselves for the task.

"We haven't seen the best of the best yet -- this Finnish goalie is supposed to be the best in the tournament, so going up against the German guy yesterday was probably a good test for us, and we'll have to battle just as hard, or harder, against this guy," said White.

"It's just like last game -- if we put 50-some pucks on the net, we're going to give ourselves a very good chance to win, no matter who's in goal. It doesn't matter who you are, you can't stop what you can't see. We need to get traffic in front of him."

"We know European goalies don't like traffic very much, so we'll have to get some people in front of him, and see what happens," said Tootoo. "And shoot the puck. Only way you're going to score on him."

Upshall, one of several returnees from last year's team, knows that sometimes, shooting isn't enough. Memories of that 4-1 stoning by Lehtonen are still vivid.

"He was huge. You run into a goalie his size, when he's on top of his game, and it's just like you've hit a wall, and it's really hard to get things going," said the captain.

"I've had the experience of playing some NHL games, shooting on some pretty good goaltenders there, and this guy is right there with them. He has the size, he has the flexibility, he makes the big save. Great goaltenders win championships, and in Kari's case, he's drafted No. 2 overall, so everyone knows what he's capable of. If we have trouble with him, it's going to be because he's on top of his game.

"In this tournament, it's really us against him, I think. This will be our biggest test so far." 

Первая страничка молодежных чемпионатов мира 2003 года
Подгруппа А - подробнее
Россия, Швейцари, США, Словакия, Белоруссия
Подгруппа В - подробнее
Канада, Финляндия, Чехия, Швеция, Германия
За 7-10 места - подробнее
Швейцария, Швеция, Германия, Белоруссия
1/4 финала - подробнее
США - Чехия
Финляндия - Словакия
1/2 финала - подробнее
Россия - Финляндия
Канада - США
Финал - подробнее
За 5 место. Словакия - Чехия
За 3 место. США - Финляндия
За 1 место. Канада - Россия
Страничка статистики

Молодежные чемпионаты мира (до 20 лет) 2003 года.