Hockey Canada has a small problem. It’s one of those “nice problems to have”, however. Both Ian Scott and Michael DiPietro have been good enough to look like they could be the starter for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships. But even if the coaches run a tandem at first, they have to pick one goalie for the games that really count, so they have to decide. Talk tandems all you want, when it comes to goalies, there really can be only one starter.
Scott, a 2017 draft pick of the Leafs (110th overall), is 6’3”, 183 lbs and turns 20 a week after this tournament ends. He’d like to have a gold medal for his birthday, and if he gets it, it’ll be his first major win, although he was named as part of the Marlies Calder Cup winning team, He only played one game in the regular season in the AHL.
On a recent TSN broadcast of a pre-tournament game, they told the story of Scott, who was cut from Canada’s U18 team in 2017, setting up his phone to send him a text that said “cut” every so often, so he’d remember what he’s working towards: Never having that happen again. The road paved with that determination has not been perfectly smooth, however.
Scott began his junior career young, with 26 starts for a bad Prince Albert Raiders team when he was 16. He followed that up with two 50-game seasons with numbers that aren’t impressive at all. Even if you allow for his age, and scrupulously compare him to his peers, his results didn’t meet expectations.
The Leafs drafted him in between those two seasons, and for fans expecting his second full WHL tour to be better, it felt a little like when the fireworks get wet on July 1, and don’t really go off. Prince Albert still wasn’t all that good, and last summer, when Hockey Canada was naming its goalies for the World Junior Summer Showcase, Scott had played 8 playoff games as a Raider, a handful of games at the U18 and U17 level, and there weren’t many 9s on his Elite Prospect page.
Until this season, that is. His .943 is tops in the WHL, it would be tops in the OHL, and it would be one-one hundredth behind the top QMJHL goalie (who only has 8 starts). The Raiders have played 34 games and lost two with one overtime loss. Some of that is Brett Leason, who you will get to see as well on Team Canada, and his 64 points, but Scott has been hot, and he hasn’t cooled off on the national team.
In preliminary play for the WJC, Scott has absolutely been the equal of Michael DiPietro. The play of Matt Villalta, who was cut, was also very good. In the last game before the tournament, Canada played Finland to a loss, and put DiPietro in for the first half and Scott for the second. They each gave up two goals, and each of them got beat clean by a Finnish shooter who found an opening to exploit.
The broadcasters’ conclusion was that the star goalie of the night was Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, and the truth is, winning always makes you look better.
Scott is the sort of goalie who wants to make it look easy. He’s tall, flexible and very good at lateral movement, and he uses his size and his economy of motion to be there before the puck is there. If that sounds like Frederik Andersen, that’s a fair comparison on his style. Although no one would question Andersen’s reaction speed, no one ever calls him athletic in the first list of adjectives, and that’s especially true for Scott when he’s being measured against a totally different sort of goalie in Michael DiPietro.
DiPietro is 19, and doesn’t turn 20 until next summer. He’s 6’0”, 201 lbs, and he was drafted by the Vancouver Canucks in 2017 (64th overall). He is a totally different proposition to Scott, and he has what might be the best junior hockey resume since Carter Hart went off to figure out the Flyers.
DiPietro won the Memorial Cup in convincing fashion in his hometown for the Windsor Spitfires, put in another good playoff performance the next year, and this year, just before the WJC began, he was traded for 17-million draft picks to the Ottawa 67’s so they can make a run at the cup. Everyone assumes that to run for that cup, you’ll have to go through Ian Scott and the Raiders.
Prior to this year, DiPietro hadn’t had much experience with Team Canada, although he was excellent in the Hlinka. But he has been “on their radar”, was at the WJSS and was assumed for a time to be the de facto starter. When the junior camp began a few days ago, it seemed like Scott and Vallalta were competing for the backup’s job. Now it’s a whole different story.
DiPietro has been good in the games he’s played at this camp, he just hasn’t been spectacular. His athletic style has been on display, and he is apparently criticized sometimes for looking like he scrambles too much, but his lateral movement and focus is top notch. He was beat on a shot by Linus Nyman on Sunday night where the Canadian defenders just let Nyman have all the time in the world to set up and pick his corner. You could say that the problem is DiPietro is too small, and there’s too many corners open, but Scott got beat on a shot that was harder for the shooter to make, but only because Canada actually defended it.
Team Canada has said they will play both of their goalies in the early games and then decide. Canada opens the tournament on Boxing Day against Denmark, then they play the Swiss on December 27. That’s a decently even pair of opponents to test out these two goalies against. The final two preliminary games are the Czechs on December 29 and Russia on December 31.
It comes down to that final game. Which goalie gets the call on New Year’s Eve? Whoever does will lock down the starter’s job for the medal games if he shines against Russia.
So, what do you think? Can Ian Scott do it? Can he go from not even on the short list to number one in the space of a few months?
Ian Scott or Michael DiPietro?
|Ian Scott forever||254|
|Michael DiPietro will win in the end||122|
|They’ll still be flipping coins to choose on January 5||113|