Date: August 3, 2017

Looking at Canada’s Goalie Options for Korean Olympics

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By Steven Ellis – Eurohockey.com

For the first time in recent Olympic history, Canada’s goaltending options are no longer a no-brainer. What will the two-time defending Olympic champion bring to the table this time around?

Canada hasn’t had to think very hard about their goalie options in previous international tournaments.

At the 2014 Olympics and 2016 World Cup of Hockey, the undisputed number one goalie was Carey Price. Roberto Luongo and Braden Holtby were both fully capable of being number one goalies in their respective years, but for the most part, Price was on top of the world.

But for the first time since the 1994 Olympics, the tournament that is typically known for having the best athletes in the world will be without the best hockey players due to the complaints from the NHL playing over in PyeongChang, South Korea.

So for the first time in a long time, there is no longer a clear picture on who the goaltending for Team Canada will be. They have the AHL, CHL, KHL, NLA, SHL, DEL, etc. to choose from, but considering teams like Russia and Sweden will still be strong offensively, goaltender means more than ever at the Olympics.

Canada will be taking part in at least four international tournaments in 2017 leading up to the tournament, starting with the Sochi Hockey Open and Tournament of Nikolai Puchkov in August. Canada is bringing two slightly-altered rosters for the tournaments, with the expectation that the final team will be made up players currently on the two teams.

Naturally, due to his previous experience with the team and coming off of a decent season with Dynamo Minsk in the KHL, Ben Scrivens seems to be the number one choice. Scrivens has had a few tough seasons in the NHL after stealing the show with the Los Angeles Kings back in 2013-2014 when Jonathan Quick was injured. He has played with five different teams since that wonderful stretch of action, with the Spruce Grove, Alberta native signed to play with Salavat Yulaev Ufa for the upcoming campaign.

Internationally, Scrivens is the only goalie of the three to have previous experience. In 2014, Scrivens out-played former Toronto Maple Leafs goalie partner James Reimer and earned Canada’s starting role heading into the quarter-finals. The playoff round, however, saw Canada exiting early in a match against Finland, but Scrivens proved he could be a decent goalie at the tournament.

Scrivens only saw one more season as a full-time NHLer with Edmonton before eventually spending the 2015-2016 season split between two AHL squads and the Montreal Canadiens, who might as well have been an AHL team that year.

Scrivens went on to represent Canada at the 2016 Wayne Gretzky Ice Hockey Classic in Australia in 2016, an event that features some NHLers mixed in with minor-pro players in an exhibition tournament spread out throughout Australia.

Then there is Kevin Poulin, the only goalie to represent Canada at both exhibition tournaments the team is taking place in Europe in August. Poulin hasn’t played in the NHL since December 27th, 2014 in a shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres, finding himself in the AHL for two seasons before seeing his options dry out after a stint with  Calgary’s AHL team, Stockton.

In an effort to get his career back on track, Poulin, 27, played a game with the now-defunct Laval Predateurs of the LNAH, a league known more for its thuggish nature than their skilled assassins. He finally was able to sign with the KHL’s Barys Astana in October, where he backed up former Calgary Flames netminder Henrik Karlsson.

But with the 2017-2018 season heating up in just a few weeks, Poulin finds himself without a job, which could be why he was named to two different Canadian squads. Will the international hockey virgin spend the time fully focusing on the Olympics? Who knows, but he’ll need to really steal the show after a few weak professional seasons in recent years.

Former Carolina Hurricanes, Washington Capitals and Arizona Coyotes backup Justin Peters will not likely get the call to start any games in South Korea, but could easily act as the third goalie after getting called upon for the Sochi Open tournament beginning on August 5th. Canada’s third goalie at the 2014 World Championships, Peters is also looking for his first game of action, which he will surely get in Sochi.

Peters found himself moving around quite a bit last season, playing with Arizona in the NHL and Tucson and Texas in the AHL. The two-time AHL All-Star has shown the ability to be good in short bursts, but has never really been counted on as a viable option as a starting goalie for an extended period of time.

Still, the Blyth, Ontario native is hoping to turn his career around after signing with Dinamo Minsk, who will face Canada at the 2017 Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland in December. Peters should create a strong goaltending duo with Jānis Kalniņš, a Latvian native who represented the team in 30 games a year ago. But with an Olympic opportunity at large, this is the most important season of his career to date.

Those three goalies are all pegged to represent Canada in the summer, but what other options are there out there? What about Zachary Fucale? Some Montreal Canadiens may call him a bust at 23-years-old, having being regulated to the ECHL last season, but Team Canada seems to have like him the past few years. Fucale pulled off a rare feat where he represented Canada at two separate World Junior tournaments, winning gold on home ice back in 2015.

Then, at the 2016 Spengler Cup, Fucale proved to be one of the best goalies at the tournament, enroute to Canada’s second straight championship. It was the fifth time Fucale has represented Canada in international competition, capping off a season that saw Fucale act as arguably the best goalie in Brampton Beast history.

Likely to backup Charlie Lindgren with the AHL’s Laval Rocket, Fucale has to be considered, but could be in a tough spot because the other options all come from the KHL, who, of course, will feature many players in the tournament among the many teams.

Then there’s Danny Taylor, who is fresh off of a good season in the KHL with Sibir Novosibirsk and Medvescak Zagreb. Unlike Fucale, Taylor has experience playing against the best players from the KHL, and with a likely shot at being an AHL starter with the Binghamton Senators, he’ll be given chances to show his worth.

At the 2016 Deutschland Cup with Canada, his first tournament with Canada, Taylor had significantly better stats than Jaroslav Janus and Tobias Stephan, the only other goalies to play in two games in the tournament, allowing just one goal on 49 shots against. Taylor could very likely find himself playing in the NHL at some point as a fill-in for Ottawa, however, which would negate his chances of representing the team.

Another possible name, despite being a long shot? Eric Comrie. Canada’s third goalie at the 2017 World Championships, Comrie is also no stranger to Team Canada, having represented them at the U17, U18 and U20 level. Comrie was out-played by Fucale at the 2015 World Juniors, but after two seasons with the Manitoba Moose, Comrie is ready to prove himself.

One of Winnipeg’s top prospects, Comrie will be the undisputed starting netminder for the Manitoba Moose and the Jets may want him to get playing time in the AHL instead of backing up at the Olympics, but there’s never a bad time to represent your country.

Clearly, Canada isn’t short on options between the pipes, but they’re lacking a true standout goalie option. You could argue that Carey Price is the guy Canada would have rode had NHLers been allowed at the Olympics, but that doesn’t matter at this point, does it?

Now it’s time for Canada’s forgotten suns to get the job done. And trust me, fans are going to be surprised.

Chinese Hockey Expanding at an Astonishing Rate

By Geoff Nichols – The Hockey Writers

What is going on in China? Thankfully, this will not be a politically-charged piece but rather an attempt to figure out everything the Chinese Ice Hockey Association and the people behind Kunlun Red Star are doing to ramp up the level of hockey in China and the strength of China’s men’s and women’s national teams. There is a lot going on…maybe?

It all started prior to the 2016-17 season with the aforementioned Kunlun Red Star joining the Kontinental Hockey League. The plan was to sign Chinese players or ethnic Chinese from superior hockey nations who would then become naturalized citizens.

This is not a new plan for nations that find themselves lower on the IIHF World Rankings than they would like, but it is likely the most ambitious as Beijing will host the Winter Olympics in a little over four years and the Chinese expect to medal in at least women’s hockey. Currently, Kunlun Red Star has only two players on their roster who have Chinese citizenship: Zach Yuen and Rudi Ying.

China already had a team in an international league with the China Dragon competing in Asia League Ice Hockey, a team comprised mostly of members of the men’s national team with a few imports sprinkled in. “Had” is the key word as that team folded this offseason. That would seem like a step back until you realize the team perennially finished in last place in the standings with the low point being 2013-14 with regulation losses in all 42 games and a goal differential of minus-282.

Expanding the Men’s Program to Fix the Past

China will now see its number of professional men’s teams jump to a total of three. In addition to Kunlun Red Star, in 2017-18 there will be two Chinese teams in the Vysshaya Hokkeinaya Liga (VHL), also known as the Supreme Hockey League in English. There will be a Kunlun-branded team in Harbin, one of the long-time Chinese hockey hotbeds, called KRS Heilongjiang as well as Tsen Tou Jilin. KRS Heilongjiang will serve as Kunlun Red Star’s VHL affiliate but Vladimir Krechin, GM of Kunlun Red Star has stated that the club will work with Tsen Tou Jilin as well.

In the Russian Ice Hockey Federation’s announcement of KRS Heilongjiang joining the VHL, it was reported that 15 Chinese players were at the event announcing the team and those players would make up the core of the KRS Heilongjiang roster.

If a mostly-Chinese team could not climb out of the cellar of ALIH, I do not see how having two Chinese teams in a league with a higher overall level of play, like the VHL, could possibly lead to better results. Their only hope would seem to be splitting the members of the Chinese national team between the two VHL clubs and bring in a larger number of imports to help not only the clubs’ league standings but with the coaching and skill development of Chinese players.

Currently, KRS Heilongjiang has 38 players on their roster, according to EliteProspects.com. Tsen Tou Jilin has zero publicly confirmed signings.

Looking West for Women’s Hockey

Perhaps the move made by the KRS group that received the most attention was the announcement that the newly formed Kunlun Red Star women’s team would join the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. The team will play in China and will employ that earlier idea of using foreign players to help coach Chinese players or be an “ambassador” for the sport.

Because the team will be based in China, the team will travel to North America multiple times to play their away games against the league’s Canada and United States based teams. Now recent developments make it look as though they may not need to leave China for some of their away games.

Chinese news outlets, and later the CWHL itself in a now-deleted tweet, announced a second Chinese team would be joining the CWHL. Not much else has come out in the Chinese or North American press about the potential second team and the CWHL has been silent on their end. Michelle Jay of The Ice Garden has put together a thorough timeline of events for the whole CWHL-China situation.

Globalization to Grow Domestically

It seems that the Chinese Ice Hockey Federation and the KRS execs are committed to placing their teams in leagues where they feel the team will have the best chance to grow the level of Chinese hockey ahead of the 2022 Beijing Games. They passed over closer women’s leagues in Russia and Europe to place a team, or two, in the CWHL and it appears as though the same approach has been taken with regard to youth development.

The relationship with the Russian Ice Hockey Federation will continue with men’s U20 team battling with teams across Russia and Eastern Europe in the Molodezhnaya Hokkeinaya Liga (MHL), also known by the creative name of Junior Hockey League.

The women’s junior team, however, will be completely based in North America. The New England Women’s Junior Hockey League recently rebranded to become the Eastern Women’s Hockey Conference and announced the league’s lineup, which will feature Kunlun Red Star Junior. The release also states that all teams in the EWHC will be based on the eastern seaboard of Canada and the US. Kunlun initially announced plans for the team to join the Junior Women’s Hockey League, but those plans have obviously changed.

The same press release said that Kunlun Red Star planned to enter a U18 men’s team in a North American league called the “Northwest Hockey League,” but no information about such a team is readily available. If that team comes to fruition, any North American ethnic Chinese players on it, or the women’s team in the EWHC, would need to play two years in China between now and the 2022 Olympics to meet IIHF requirements for naturalized citizens if they wish to represent China.