As one of two goaltenders selected to Team Canada’s selection camp for the 2015 WJC, Barrie Colts netminder Mackenzie Blackwood’s chances of making the squad had sit somewhere between 99-100%, barring injury or suspension.
That latter reason may come into play, as Blackwood will sit 8 games for his vicious slash of a Sudbury Wolves forward in last Friday’s game at Sudbury Arena, and it could have ramifications for Team Canada.
Blackwood, a second rounder of the New Jersey Devils, was given a match penalty and booted from the contest, a penalty-filled 6-4 Barrie win.
The normally calm, cool and collected netminder will sit for this piece of stickwork:
The IIHF honours CHL suspensions, so the 8 game timeframe has some in Hockey Canada worried. Blackwood, if he makes the Team Canada squad for the 2016 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships in Finland later this month, will be forced to sit the team’s first two round-robin games.
Two games means half of the round robin schedule. It's possible that Team Canada doesn't bother with Blackwood and goes for two goaltenders to make the trip to Finland who can play all the games, rather than bringing three.
As McKenzie reports, Blackwood could play in all the pre-tournament games, as they do not count towards his suspension. That could work to Blackwood's advantage, as he could stay battle-tested in an environment similar to the tournament and "win back" a spot he may have given away.
It's also worth noting that Blackwood's suspension will have him sit for 6 OHL games he won't be present for, as he will report to training camp Thursday and be in Hockey Canada's care until the suspension has been served.
Blackwood, along with Mason McDonald of the Charlottetown Islanders, are the two goaltenders selected to Team Canada’s selection camp, meaning another goalie will likely be extended an invite to camp, which starts Thursday. At the very least, that netminder will sit in Blackwood’s spot on the bench at the tournament until he’s served his time.
Samuel Montembeault of the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada was the third goalie to attend the summer evaluation camp in Calgary in July and August. It would not be unexpected for Montembault, a Florida Panthers pick, to get the call and sit as the backup for Canada’s contests against the United States and Denmark, and then get bumped to the press box as Blackwood returns for the round robin games against Switzerland and Sweden.
Montembeault’s talent is good, but his numbers are underwhelming this season, with a 2.79 GAA and a .886 save percentage. Adin Hill of the Portland Winterhawks has great individual numbers on a meh Portland team this season, with a GAA of 2.97 and a save percentage of .917.
Neither the Armada nor the Winterhawks are top teams in their leagues, so the team numbers can be thrown out the window. The goaltending numbers could be shown in spite of the teams in front of them.
This also means that McDonald, a Calgary Flames prospect, will be the overwhelming favourite to get the nod to start for Team Canada on Dec. 26 in that game against the United States. It also gives him an overwhelming head start over Blackwood in the starting goaltender race in camp.
Other names potentially on Team Canada’s radar in the past include the Chicoutimi Saguenéens’ Julio Billia, who owns the QMJHL’s top save percentage at .917 or Zach Sawchenko of the Moose Jaw Warriors, whose numbers have dramatically improved since last season. Sawchenko would be a choice to “groom” a starter for next year’s tournament, as he would turn 18 at the tournament. Both would be off-the-board selections at this point.
Team Canada’s selection camp opens up Thursday in Etobicoke, Ont., and wraps up Sunday with a pair of games against a CIS All-Star team among the highlights for camp-goers.
Update: Team Canada has added Montembeault and Rouyn-Noranda Huskies blueliner Jérémy Lauzon to their selection camp roster. -Mike Sanderson