Canadian goalies shine at U-17 Challenge

Scott stood out at the U-17s for the amount of minutes he played, and the way he played them. (Dennis Pajot/Hockey Canada Images)

If there’s a position in which Canada lacks the dominance it has over the rest of the hockey-playing world, it’s in net. That’s evident in the NHL, where half of all skaters (334 out of 672) are Canadian but only one-third of goalies (23 out of 65) grew up in the Great White North. It’s also evident in big international tournaments, particularly at the junior level where it’s necessary to have new, quality goaltenders coming up the pipe each and every year.

That’s why the performance of Canada’s goaltenders at this year’s World Under-17 Hockey Challenge is so encouraging. Two in particular stood out from the pack and delivered exceptional work for their teams.

Ian Scott won the gold medal with Canada White, one of three Canadian teams entered in the tournament, and is one of the better goaltending prospects produced by the country in some time. In 2014 he was the No. 9 pick of the WHL Bantam Draft by the Prince Albert Raiders, a distinction that made him the highest-drafted WHL goaltender since Carey Price back in 2002.

Scott Walker, who coached Canada White, praises Scott’s reassuring presence. “He was unbelievable,” the Guleph Storm head coach says. “He’s so composed, he’s so calm in the net. He’s a lovable guy off the ice, he’s so confident. You can tell that the guys believe in him.”

Walker’s trust in his No. 1 goaltender was such that in the medal round—when Canada played three games in three nights—it was Scott between the pipes in each contest. He turned aside 29 of 31 shots in a quarterfinal against Finland, allowed a single goal on 25 shots in a 2-1 win over Sweden in the semifinals and finished the tournament with 21 saves on 23 shots in the gold medal game.

Scott is only 16 years old, but already has NHL size, coming in at 6-foot-3 and 170 lb. His junior career has started well, too; he’s 5-1-0 with a .917 save percentage for Prince Albert. Fellow netminder Rylan Parenteau has just a .904 save percentage over 14 games played, so it’s reasonable to think that Scott may take over the starting job as early as this season, which would make him a two-season starter when he becomes eligible for the NHL Draft in the summer of 2017.

Scott may be the best Canadian goaltender in his age group, but he won’t be unchallenged. Kris Knoblauch, who coached Canada Red, puts forward his starter, Michael DiPietro of the Windsor Spitfires, as the best goalie in the tournament, though he did so with mixed emotions. “I thought throughout the tournament he played very well,” says the Erie Otters bench boss. “Of the goalies I saw, I thought he was the best. I only have good things to say about him. Unfortunately he’s in the same league as me, so I’m going to see a lot of him in the future.”

DiPietro finished the tournament with a 3-1-1 record and and his .929 save percentage was second-best save at the event. Like Scott, he played three games in three days, but he also played more games in the preliminary round of the event. He ended up leading the tournament with 308 minutes played in the span of just seven days.

It might well have been DiPietro with the gold medal draped around his neck instead of Scott, if not for heartbreak in the semifinals against Russia. He saved 31 of 33 shots in that game (.939 save percentage) and stopped five of six shooters in the shootout, but nobody on his team was able to score in the extra round and as a result he ended up with the 3-2 loss.

Like Scott, DiPietro has been very good at the junior level, with a 4-1-0 record for Windsor and .943 save percentage. He was a second-round pick in the 2015 OHL Priority Draft and his modest size (6-foot, 198 lb.) is a bit of a concern but his play has been outstanding.

Overshadowed by Scott and DiPietro was Alex D’Orio, the No. 9-overall pick in the 2015 QMJHL Draft. D’Orio, who’s still playing midget AAA in Quebec, did manage to outperform teammate and St. Mike’s Buzzer Jake McGrath, who struggled, but he was decidedly outmatched by Czech Tomas Vomacka in his final game of the tournament, coming out on the wrong side of a 3-2 decision which condemned Canada Black to last place at the event. D’Orio nevertheless has NHL size (6-foot-2, 198 lb.) and will be in the running for future international events.

He did not, however, help himself at this tournament. Scott came in with high expectations and delivered on them, confirming his status as a top-end goaltending prospect. The player who helped himself the most, however, may have been DiPietro, who came in with relatively modest expectations and took a back seat to nobody.