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Canadian goaltending drought leaves few candidates for 2026 Olympics

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The easy part for Doug Armstrong, general manager of Team Canada 2026, is to write down the names of his centres: Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon and Sidney Crosby.

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Then he flips to his Canadian defence and starts with Cale Makar and probably veteran Alex Pietrangelo.

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And then the blank piece of paper: The list of great goaltenders ready to backstop Team Canada in Milan when NHL players return to the Olympics two years from now.

There aren’t any today. There might not be any tomorrow.

The question of who will be in goal for Team Canada — succeeding Carey Price, Roberto Luongo, Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy — is one Armstrong cannot answer right now. Not with any kind of certainty.

For as long as anyone can remember, Canada has had no shortage of quality national-team goaltenders.

In the 1960s, there was Glenn Hall and Jacques Plante, Terry Sawchuk and Johnny Bower, Gump Worsley and Roger Crozier.

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In the ’70s, the dominant goalies were Ken Dryden, Tony Esposito, Bernie Parent, Rogie Vachon, Ed Giacomin and Gerry Cheevers.

In the ’80s, there was Grant Fuhr, Billy Smith, and a quirky rookie in 1986 named Roy.

The ’90s and the 2000s belonged to Roy, Ed Belfour and Brodeur, and later on Luongo, who was on three Olympic teams either as starter or backup.

And Price was just about perfect in the 2014 Olympics, allowing only three goals in six Team Canada wins. That will never be done by anyone again.

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And now what — or, better yet, now who?

“We have a problem,” said Wally Kozak, the 78-year-old hockey historian, intellect and long-time national team coach. “And we don’t seem to know how to fix it.

“Other countries are producing goaltenders. We’re not. Is anybody asking why? Is anybody looking into this in an international way?

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“What are the Russians doing? How do they have all these goalies? What’s their program? What are they teaching? What aren’t they teaching? What can we learn from them?”

On Wednesday night in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the goaltenders, Sergei Bobrovsky and Igor Shesterkin put on a clinic in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final. They have been the two best netminders in the playoffs, both of them Russian, coming from a country that currently has the deepest goalie pool in the world.
In addition to Bobrovsky and Shesterkin — who would both start for Canada if they were Canadian — the Russians have

Andrei Vasilevskiy, who many consider the best goaltender in the world, along with Colorado’s Alexander Georgiev, the Islanders’ Ilya Sorokin, young Pyotr Kochetkov in Carolina, aging Semyon Varlamov alongside Sorokin and the wayward Leafs netminder Ilya Samsonov. That’s eight starting-quality Russian goaltenders in the NHL.

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Team Canada has a choice of Stuart Skinner, Adin Hill and Jordan Binnington, and that may be it on a wish list that doesn’t look like much of one.

“This is something Hockey Canada should be delving deep into,” Kozak said. “But I don’t know what Hockey Canada is anymore and I don’t think they know.”

Virtually every Team Canada goaltender of significant events of the past half-century has wound up in the Hall of Fame or is eventually heading there.

Now, it’s like picking scraps from a bone. As Skinner attempts to find himself in these playoffs and, by extension, helping the Edmonton Oilers advance, he unofficially is auditioning for Armstrong and Team Canada.

If the Olympics started tomorrow, would it be Skinner, Hill or Bennington in goal, for example, against one of the three great Russians, Juuse Saros for Finland; Jacob Markstrom or Linus Ullmark for Sweden; and a choice of Jake Oettinger, Connor Hellebuyck, Thatcher Demko or Jeremy Swayman in goal for Team USA?

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Of the contending teams at the Olympics, Team Canada could well be the weakest in goal.

This coming at a time when they have the best player in the world, McDavid, and the best defenceman, Makar.
Instead, they have a fill-in-the-blanks kind of goalie and no one, really, on the horizon.

“How are the Americans doing this and we’re not?” Kozak asked. “Shouldn’t we be finding out what they’re doing? How their development is working and ours isn’t. It seems to me we’re developing robotic goaltenders who don’t know how to play the game. And it’s not working. But there has to be a lot more to it than just that.

“Whatever it is we’re doing has to change. We’re getting behind the rest of the world. That’s not acceptable for Canadian hockey.”

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Dryden won six Stanley Cups in goal for Montreal. Parent won two in Philadelphia and two Conn Smythe Trophies. Smith won four with the Islanders and Fuhr was in goal for four of the five Edmonton Cup wins back in the days of major dynasties.

Since then, Roy has won three Cups, Brodeur won three while Luongo and Price both got to the final.

Others such as Matt Murray and Corey Crawford won two championships each. But neither were considered anything close to all-time greats in doing so. A solid Crawford today would start for Team Canada. But there is no Crawford for GM Armstrong to choose from.

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Marc-Andre Fleury is the most accomplished Canadian goaltender currently playing in the NHL, but he’ll be 41 by the time the Olympics come around and possibly retired by then.

Which leaves what for Armstrong to choose from?

It’s hard to label Skinner, Hill and Binnington as front-runners. Others who might get consideration: Sam Montembeault of Montreal, Connor Ingram of Utah, Tristan Jarry of Pittsburgh and Logan Thompson of Vegas. That’s not an impressive list.

Only three of the 16 teams in the Stanley Cup playoffs had a Canadian starting in goal.

Only one is left, Skinner, and he’s a hold-your-breath kind of goaltender.

A departure from the Canadian greatness of hockey history.

ssimmons@postmedia.com

x.com/simmonssteve

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