Jaroslav Halak wasn’t supposed to be between Europe’s pipes at the World Cup of Hockey.
In a way, the international tournament was going to be Frederik Andersen’s formal introduction to Toronto after the hometown Maple Leafs acquired the goalie in a trade with Anaheim earlier in the summer.
Plans change, though, and Halak was pressed into duty for the makeshift European squad after Andersen was injured in an Olympic qualifying match days before the World Cup was set to begin.
As he’s been prone to do in stretches over the course of his career, Halak’s played at the highest of performance levels since the beginning of the group stage – leading to, as fate would have it, a best-of-three final against Canada following a semifinal win over Sweden in which he stopped 37-of-39 shots against.
The goalie at the other end of the ice in the final? None other than former Montreal Canadiens teammate Carey Price, the goalie on whom the most storied franchise in hockey banked their future, despite Halak’s play during Montreal’s borderline miracle run to the Eastern Conference finals in 2010.
The matchup likely won’t be lost on the goalies, says Canadian general manager Doug Armstrong, who was happy to trade for Halak as general manager of the St. Louis Blues back in 2010.
“I think there’s going to be a personal, I wouldn’t say a rivalry, but both guys know who’s at the other end." – Armstrong on Price vs Halak
— Аrpon Basu (@ArponBasu) September 25, 2016
It’s fitting, seeing as Halak and Price have posted the most impressive numbers of all the World Cup starters.
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Halak’s role in Europe’s success at the tournament can’t be overstated, head coach Ralph Krueger told reporters after the win over Sweden.
“(Halak) has been just an absolute leader in the room. Everybody wants to play for him,” Krueger said. “From day one he grabbed the ball. We had an open competition to start out with, and when Andersen fell away, Jaro just smoothly stepped in and grabbed the ball, and he hasn’t dropped it or let anybody else take it.
“I think his personality, his experience also from the past with Slovakia and in the National Hockey League, has helped us. He’s been outstanding. He’s been absolutely fantastic. Everybody in this room knows we wouldn’t be here without fabulous goaltending, and a world-class performance by Jaro Halak has helped us a lot.”
Canada against Europe isn’t the final many expected, but the Halak versus Price angle is a compelling storyline, to say the least.
Halak wasn’t able to take Montreal all the way in 2010, ultimately losing to Philadelphia, and wasn’t deemed worthy enough to keep over Price – rightfully so, in retrospect.
Canada’s current prime minister didn’t think so at the time, however.
WHAT!?!? Halak for two hockey sticks and a bag of magic beans… I miss Bob. #Habs
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) June 17, 2010
The opportunity is now before Halak to get a last laugh, of sorts, and if Europe has any chance of beating Canada, he’ll have to be as good as he’s ever been.
We can’t help but wonder who Trudeau will be backing this time around.