Malcolm Subban had a bad game on the biggest stage he’s ever been on Thursday in Russia. The Canadian goaltender was victimized for four early goals by Team USA en route to an embarrassing loss for Canada in the semifinals of the World Junior Hockey Championship.
Things got so bad, in fact, that Subban was yanked midway through the second period in an attempt to keep things from getting out of hand with the U.S. taking a 4-0 lead that they would obviously not relinquish.
It might be tough for American hockey fans to comprehend how big of a deal this is in Canada. The Canadian team was supposed to be one of the best in recent memory. The NHL lockout afforded the Canadian team the opportunity for players like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Dougie Hamilton to skate with the Canadians in the quest for their first gold medal since 2009.
That all came crashing down on Thursday, though. The Canadians were flat-out embarrassed by the upstart American team, a club that no doubt gained confidence from a hard-fought 2-1 loss to the Canadians in the preliminary round. In that 2-1 loss, the Americans and the rest of the hockey world saw how scary good Subban can be when he’s on his game.
The 19-year-old bounced back from sluggish performances against Germany and Slovakia to stand on his head with a 36-save effort against America.
“I’m really proud of him,” Canadian head coach Steve Spott said after that first game, according to the Toronto Sun. “I think goaltending in our country has been on the forefront the last couple of years. It’s a big moment for Malcolm, a big moment for our hockey club.”
Thursday was an even bigger moment, however, and the results could not have been any different. It was a loss that will be scrutinized over and over up north. Subban will likely be the object of much of that scrutiny.
But to simply blame Subban for the Canadian’s latest failure to realize expectations would be foolish. As many have already pointed out, just about any goalie would have had issues in the same situation. Subban was screened on two of the goals, and the other tallies had just as much to do with porous defense as they did shoddy goaltending.
It goes without saying that’s pretty difficult to stop what you can’t see, and there’s no need to remind everyone that hockey is still a team game.
If the prelim round game against Team USA was a big moment for Subban as a goalie, then Bruins fans will hope that their 2012 first-round pick can somehow make Thursday’s disappointment a big moment in his maturation process.
The four-goal letdown has some even questioning whether or not Subban was worth a first-round pick. That line of thinking will rightfully be dismissed for now. Let’s not forget that this is a 19-year-old kid who still has plenty of learning and growing up to do. To say that the Bruins wasted a first-round pick on Subban (don’t forget the B’s goaltending uncertainty following the 2013 season) is premature at best, laughable at worst. You have to let the kid develop. The list of goalies who have endured struggles before reaching the NHL is a fairly sizable one.
That being said, it is on Subban to really prove that he was worth the first-round pick. It’s obvious that he can be successful. In 26 games with the Belleville Bulls in the OHL this season, he’s 15-7-3 with a sparkling 2.17 goals against average to go along with a tidy .932 save percentage. The talent is undeniable. Whether or not Subban can put it all together on a consistent basis? Well, that remains to be seen.
But let’s not rush to any rash judgment here. We’ve seen enough of Subban’s talent to know that even with the adversity he faced Thursday against the Americans, that he’s a better goaltender than that. There’s a reason that he’s been compared, in a technique sense, to Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Yet, Subban is probably going to face criticism and questioning now, most of it unjustified.
It’s on Subban to use those critiques and questions the right way. If he can do that, and continue to learn and mature along the way, Thursday’s setback will be nothing but a distant memory in a few years. You know, when he’s in the NHL proving that he was worth that first-round pick.