IIHF roundup: Who in the (goalie) world is Leonardo Genoni?
Few will forget Martin Gerber’s 49-save shutout of Canada at what quickly became a miserable 2006 Olympics in Italy. At the Vancouver Olympics they needed overtime to defeat Jonas Hiller. And then at last year’s IIHF world championships one of their most notable losses was a 4-1 defeat at the hands of a spirited Swiss squad led by former Dallas backup Tobias Stephan. It was a harbinger of things to come, as the 2010 maple leaf squad fell flat, finishing in an uninspired 7th place after bowing out to Russia in the quarter final.
This year the venue has changed from Germany to Slovakia, but the expectations and pressure are just as present for visiting teams from the US and Canada, made up mostly of players eliminated from NHL playoff competition.
With so much interest in the NHL Stanley Cup on this side of the pond, hockey fans often forget that for Europeans, the IIHF World Championships ARE the biggest show in town. For proof, look no further than last year’s opening game in Gelsenkirchen between the USA and Germany, for which a world record 77,803 fans crammed into Veltins Arena to cheer on the host team (Winter Classic, stick that in your pipe and smoke it…)
Getting back to Team Canada in 2011, luck or destiny had them again placed in a first round pool with the giant killer Swiss. Go figure – the brush with disaster almost happened again for the Canadians, as they needed a repeat of overtime and a whopping 61 shots to secure first place against the relentless Swiss with a 4-3 win.
The big surprise this time around was that instead of Tobias Stephan between the pipes, it was Leonardo Genoni who got the call in his first World Championships (Gerber and Hiller were passed over because of injury) despite the fact that Stephan had the lowest save percentage of the tournament – .9808 at the time, down to .9481 now.
Of particular note is how much the bigger Olympic ice seems to make a difference in this case, with lots of wide open play, odd-man rushes and east-west movement typical of European hockey. Also worthy of attention in this highlight reel, for Canadians anyhow, is an amazing desperation diving save by Toronto Maple Leafs No.1 James Reimer early on, unfortunately followed by a stinker goal from an impossible angle shot. Suffice to say that if Reimer didn’t play so solidly in the rest of this game, Genoni and the Swiss would’ve continued their hex on Team Canada.
So who is Leonardo Genoni? For starters, he is the present Swiss League holder of the lowest goals-against average and top save percentage (1.92 and 0.939 respectively); plus he just backstopped his HC Davos team (the same one Hiller used to play for) to the league championship. As we see from this highlight video, Genoni can flat out play, and despite standing just 5-foot-11, the 23-year-old plays big enough in the net to be attracting a least some buzz among the countless NHL scouts in attendance.
Besides, anyone that already has his own TV commercials must be some sort of national hero:
Surprises and upsets among some familiar names at Worlds
InGoal had a collaborator onsite at the World Championships and the skinny coming out of Bratislava is that many of the teams are very closely matched, with nobody safe from upsets. The biggest surprise seems to be the Germans, who went from playing just to stave off relegation to pool B a few years ago to finishing first- read that twice if you have doubts- first- in pool A this year, ahead of Russia (backstopped by Evgeni Nabokov, who according to some reports injured his groin at the games), host Slovakia (with Jaroslav Halak struggling in goal) and Slovenia.
Once again, fans who follow hockey in Europe will probably take this opportunity to cluck their tongues at those in North America. Those with doubts about the Deutschlander’s Uberforce need only look to goalie Dennis Endras, who was named 2010 IIHF Championship tournament MVP, elected to the media All-Star team and was also chosen best goalie. Maybe that’s the reason that former NHLer Dmitri Patzold (San Jose Sharks 2007-08) is having to share the net. Here’s a look at Endras, who many expect to join the Minnesota Wild next season, in action during a game against Slovenia that ends in a shootout victory for the IIHF’s newest potential superpower:
Finally, another Cinderella team is France, who came to life in an OT win over Belarus, assuring their spot in the next round and sentencing the White Russians to relegation status. Their netminder is none other than Cristobal Huet, much maligned since his Chicago days but still alive and kicking for a different bleu-blanc-rouge team. Here are the highlights of a tense game that called on Huet to show flashes of the brilliance that made him a hero in Montreal (as an aside, note the amount of net-crashing and, curiously, the almost funereal tone of the announcer’s voice):
Another lesser-known (to casual observers) European attracting NHL interest
Genoni isn’t alone among European goalies atop the statistics and attracting NHL interest. Swedish stopper Viktor Fasth, a 28-year-old who was named the Swedish Elite League’s top goalie this season, was second only to Endras with a .9636 save percentage after three games and widely rumoured to be fielding at least five NHL offers.
Edmonton General Manager Steve Tambellini was on record as being interested as early as March, and reports from a Swedish newspaper indicated interest from the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning, with the first making sense given a lack of organizational goaltending depth and the latter less so for the opposite reason.
Fasth, who just completed his first season in the SEL (highlights below), is under contract to AIK for one more season.
Now that the first round is over and the qualifying round has begun (as of today), there may be more surprises. Keep posted to InGoal or to the official IIHF website for more details.