Getting Ready to Go For Gold
BUFFALO--Everywhere Ron Tugnutt goes in the home rink of the Sabres, he sees memories.
Not good ones.
"Everywhere I go I see a picture of Derek Plante and the the puck in the net," laughed the Canadian junior goalie consultant this morning.
Then, Tugnutt was with the Ottawa Senators and Plante was with the Sabres, and the goal in question won Game 7 in overtime to eliminate the Sens in the '97 playoffs.
Tugnutt's not playing anymore, but coaching and encouraging, hoping it will end better for him and Team Canada in the gold medal game tomorrow night against Russia.
Canadian goaltending, whether it's been Olivier Roy or Mark Visentin, has been a talking point for the past 10 days. Now, for the gold medal tilt, you can add in the variable of red-hot Russian netminder Dmitri Shikin, who has backstopped Russia to a pair of dramatic come-from-behind playoff wins in the 2011 world junior hockey championships.
Today was all about both teams saying the right thing. "I'm telling our guys not to let the foot off the pedal. And don't underestimate the opposition," said Canadian head coach Dave Cameron. His Russian counterpart, Valeri Bragin, smiled when asked what it would mean for his country to beat Canada. "The same as it would for Canada to beat Russia," he said.
Canadian centre Braydon Schenn, the tournament's leading scorer with 16 points in six games, said he's already done talking about the 4-1 semifinal win over the United States on Monday. "We didn't come here to beat the U.S. We came here to win the gold medal," he said.
The goaltending matchup, meanwhile, is an interesting one. Visentin took over for Roy after a shootout loss to Sweden on New Year's Eve and has won both his starts. Tugnutt, charged with keeping the goalies prepared and focussed, said he's not surprised Canada switched goalies mid-stream or that Visentin responded well.
"Look what happened with (Martin) Brodeur in the Olympics," he said, a reference to the switch to Roberto Luongo in Vancouver last winter. "I tell the guys the second you think you're not playing, that's when the coach gives you that tap on the back. You better be ready."
Visentin plays the puck better than Roy, and that made a difference against the Americans.
"He broke up a lot of their forechecks himself," said Tugnutt. "He builds confidence off playing the puck. I played with Marty Turco and it was the same thing."
As well as preparing the Canadian goalies, Tugnutt has to scout the opposition, and he has put together a video file on the short, stocky Shikin.
"All he's done is be very solid for them," said Tugnutt. "In my book, he's a great first save goaltender. His ability to recover after that first save is something I think we can go after."
Big bodies, and lots of 'em, in Shikin's crease will be the Canadian plan. Turning to Visentin, meanwhile, was hardly a desperation move, not in Tugnutt's mind.
"Yeah, we have a goalie problem. We're putting in a first round NHL pick in the net," smirked Tugnutt, referencing Visentin's selection by Phoenix in the first round.
The key, he figures, is to help Visentin simply play his game.
"There's so much pressure sometimes the goalies will start doing things they've never done before," he said. "Last year, Jake Allen suddenly started going down early, and he'd never done that before. What happens is they want so bad to do well, they can't be themselves.
"So that's what we tell our guys. Just be yourself in there."