Whether the Ottawa 67’s can win 3 their third straight game Tuesday evening, clawing their way back from a 3 games to 1 deficit. Or if the Barrie Colts can win Game 7 and knock off the number 2 seed. All eyes will still be focused on the Niagara IceDogs, more importantly Mark Visentin.
Depending on their opponent the IceDogs will have either a full week or 8 days off (vs OTT begins Thurs; vs BAR begins Fri). In that time many things can occur with a team: Rink Rust, Complacency, Boredom etc. but knowing Marty Williamson, he has been on top of his players since the final buzzer went off last Thursday in Brampton. Back to Mark… No matter how much campaigning you can do for a player, Visentin specifically, he will still forever be linked as a ‘choke artist’ in the eyes of fans and critics. Being forever linked to the collapse of Team Canada at the ’11 World Juniors where Team Canada gave up 5 goals in the third period en route to Russia stealing the Gold Medal from around the necks of Canada. Whether you are in the camp that it was entirely the goaltenders fault, or a total team collapse, it is still a burden that will follow Mark and now his IceDogs until the team can win a championship. Rightfully or Wrongfully that is a fact.
I have always been a supporter of Visentin, whether it is through Twitter, blog posts or even just in a casual conversation with him about said events. Mark’s mentality has always been of the mindset, ‘you live and you learn’. That mind set has made a stronger goalie out of him both physically and mentally. Even though the season started off slow for the Niagara goaltender, posting an 8-7-0-1 record through the first 17 games played, with a 2.92GAA and .886SV% with 4 SO, something clicked for Mark at the beginning of December. Maybe it was the pressure and all the noise from media, fans and critics that he should not get another shot to dawn the Red and White sweater at the World Juniors. But from the December 1st on he has been nothing but a lights out goaltender. His record, 22-2-0-1 with 6 shut outs (including 3 straight) a 1.75GAA and a .946SV%. like I said, LIGHTS OUT.
Mark’s strong goaltending behind the strong team in front of him, shot Niagara up the standings to 1st in the Eastern Conference, finishing 2 points behind 1st Overall in the league, the London Knights. It is about this time the detractors started to remind everyone that Visentin is not an elite goaltender and that he is poised for a breakdown. After giving up 3 goals in the first two games against the Oshawa Generals in the first round of the playoffs. The very talented and underrated Generals poured it back on and were able to beat Visentin 10 times in the 2 games to even the series at 2 apiece. After Game 4 in round one, it has been all Niagara lead by some great goaltending by Mark who has rattled off 6 straight wins to end out round one and help sweep the Brampton Battalion, in those 6 victories… 1.61GAA and a .946SV%.
Despite the stats that suggest Mark is going to be in fine form for the Eastern Conference Finals and possibly into the OHL Finals, that stigma still remains. But go back to the ‘live and learn’ mentality I spoke of before. Mark always bounces back… after the Gold medal defeat last year in Buffalo, Visentin returned to Niagara and posted a 17-5-2-4 1.96GAA a .937SV% and 3SO. Combine that to his bounce back this season, consider the two games versus the generals as a road block, and Mark is about to set the rest of the playoffs on fire. You can argue whether the IceDogs team have been battle tested in these playoffs or not. But you can not discount the fire that Mark Visentin has walked through to stand tall.