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Can We Let Mark Visentin Up Before We Throw Him Under the Bus?

Special Thanks to Bryan Thiel


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When you decide to be a goaltender when you’re five, six, or whenever you become enamored with the position, there are few who say that it was something other than the fun and challenge of being the last line of defense for your team that they fell in love with.

But as young goalies grow older, they quickly find out that while the position is still fun, the spotlight becomes harsher and more and more eyes are watching you. And connected to those eyes, are the mouths that judge.

Niagara Ice Dogs goalie Mark Visentin knows all about those mouths and eyes. He heard from all of them last year when Canada fell apart in the gold medal game of the World Junior Championship against Team Russia, in a final game that defined ‘self-destruction’ for a country.

He heard from all of those doubters again this week when the Selection Camp roster for Canada’s entrant into the World Juniors was announced. Visentin was one of only three returning players named to the camp, and the only one who wasn’t a forward. And while this hockey-mad country usually looks to those returning players and crosses their fingers for a big tournament, no one showered Visentin with praise. No one lauded the fact he is probably back. They just brought up that game.

It’s no secret that things haven’t gone the way many expected in Niagara early on, and that probably has a lot to do with the naysayers and detractors. If Visentin was having a season like London’s Michael Houser or something similar to Malcolm Subban’s year, maybe what we’d be hearing would be different.

There would still be those that would grumble about how Visentin seemingly can’t win the big game and how Canada might have been better to take a chance on a goalie like Subban, but there’d probably be a few more out there willing to defend Visentin using this year’s numbers. They’d say he’s better than he was last year, more experienced from what he went through, and hungry after that third-period heart-break and five-game letdown in the East Final against Mississauga.

But things aren’t better. He’s just 8-7-0-1, barely above .500, and despite four shutouts his goals-against average is tenth best in the league, behind the league-leader Subban, Houser, and American-hopeful John Gibson to name a few. His sub-.900 save percentage has him just 23rd and he won just four of his first 11 games.

He has wins in four of his last five, two of which are shutouts, but why would anyone tell you that? That doesn’t support the case for those that don’t want him to join the rare ranks of goalies who have played consecutive years for Canada at the tournament that includes Al Jensen (1977-78), Jimmy Waite (87-88), Stephane Fiset (89-90) Trevor Kidd (90-92), Marc Denis (96-97), Roberto Luongo (98-99), Brian Finley (99-00), Maxime Ouellet (2000-01), and Marc-Andre Fleury (03-04).

Of those nine, just two (Denis and Kidd) won gold in their first year with Team Canada, so when you don’t add to Canada’s record 15 golds at the tournament one year, you can imagine how hard it is to convince the masses of a hockey-crazed nation you’re worth a second chance.

But the fact is, Visentin is as worthy of that shot as anyone. We forget so often that hockey is a team game, and that the players ahead of Visentin last year let him down as much as he let them down. He also gained some hard-luck experience from when the hockey world came crashing down.

He’ll have to prove that he’s better than Tyler Bunz, Louis Domingue, and Scott Wedgewood before we get to see what he’s learned, but shouldn’t Mark Visentin get that chance before we throw him under the bus? After all, Hockey Canada saw enough in him last year, collapse or not, to invite him to this year’s camp, so why should we force ourselves to discount him so soon?

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