It’s not every night that a Canadian goaltender faces more than 50 shots.
It’s usually the other way around. Canada managed 167 shots in its first three games of the Olympic women’s hockey tournament in Beijing, largely buoyed by a huge 70-shot effort against Switzerland in the opener. That’s an average of 55 shots per game, with the other two games hitting 48 and 49 respectively.
So for Canada to allow 53 shots, even against a team as strong as the United States, is madness. But so was the performance of new national team starting goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens, who turned down 51 of the drives sent to her. If it hadn’t been for one of the best performances by a Canadian goaltender at the Olympics, Canada probably wouldn’t have entered the medal round as the top-ranked team.
This Olympics, in particular, serves as a bit of a changing of the guard in the Canadian fold, and Tuesday’s game was the toughest experience yet.
Shannon Szabados, the team’s longtime No. 1 with three Olympic tournaments under her belt. She has an all-time record of 8-1-0 with four shutouts and has rarely crumbled under pressure. His only loss? The gold medal game against the United States in 2018, although she played fantastically in the Instant Classic.
But Szabados hasn’t played since 2019-20, which also marked his last tournament to date with Canada’s national team at the World Championship that year. Szabados hasn’t officially retired, having taken time off to be with his newborn daughter, but Canada have definitely trusted the 27-year-old Desbiens.
Desbiens has been part of the Hockey Canada system for over a decade, starting with a silver medal at the 2011 U-18 World Championship. Like many high-level players, Desbiens has played against boys at the midget level, posting impressive statistics with the Beaubourg Seigneurs Midget AA team in Quebec in 2011-12. She then embarked on an incredible career in the NCAA, posting an all-time record of 99-14-9 with a GAA of .89, an SP of .960 and an incredible 55 shutouts in just 122 games, making her one of the greatest guards in NCAA history. .
Desbiens, who took off the season after the 2018 Olympics where she served as a substitute for Szabados, played one game in the Great Lakes Hockey League, winning her only start. Desbiens hasn’t played a ton of hockey since, aside from some PWHPA action, but she hasn’t lost a game at the World Championship or the Olympics in her entire career.
Is it good? Yeah, that’s pretty good.
At 5-foot-9, Desbiens is second only to fellow Canadian Kristen Campbell as the tallest goaltender at the Olympics. This size works to Desbiens’ advantage in the slot, and she has the quick movement you’d expect from a smaller goaltender. Add to that a quick, active glove hand and the ability to seemingly find pucks in traffic and she has what it takes to be a star goaltender at this level.
A college scout compared his game to Jonathan Quick, who at one time was one of the best athletic goaltenders in the NHL, using his quick lateral movements to become one of the best goaltenders for a long time. part of the 2010s.
“She’s athletic like what we saw from Quick in the Los Angeles Cup races,” they said. “She moves well, doesn’t over-commit but if she does, she comes back pretty quickly.”
Canada doesn’t always need a good goalie. Barring a stunning performance on the other end, Desbiens, like Szabados before her, rarely has to be the best player on the ice. But Desbiens proved that Canada can count on her in the big moments, which will be important for the future.
“Anne has shown time and time again why she wins us games,” Erin Ambrose told CBC after Tuesday’s game. “She makes saves at the right time and it’s great to play in front of her.”
And that sentiment is shared by so many Desbiens teammates, past and present. The biggest challenge of his career is still on the horizon as Canada look to win the gold medal game once again. Desbiens showed what she was capable of in Calgary over the summer – but nothing matched her victory at the Olympics.
With Desbiens at the helm, Canada couldn’t have asked for a much better option.