Earlier this month, the small town of Dawson Creek, British Columbia hosted the annual World Junior A Challenge - a five-team tournament of under-19 players at the Junior A level from around the world.
This year’s event featured teams from the United States, Russia, Czechia, Canada West and Canada East. Players skating for the U.S. almost exclusively come from the USHL, and the Canadian rosters are filled by skaters from leagues a tier below the CHL, like the Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL), Quebec Junior Hockey League (LHJAAAQ), British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) and Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL).
Prominent tournament alumni include Andrei Svechnikov, Kyle Turris, Cale Makar, Craig Smith and, just last year, Tomáš Vomáčka.
The 2019 edition of the tournament saw Ethan Haider, Nashville’s fifth-round pick this past summer, split duties in net for Team USA as the Americans captured the bronze medal.
Headed North From Sioux City
Haider has started 18 games for the Sioux City this season, collecting seven wins for the Musketeers in his debut USHL campaign.
After a hot start (he was named the USHL Goaltender of the Week on Oct. 8), Haider stumbled through a series of games before the World Junior A Challenge; he left for British Columbia with an 0.894 save percentage (20th) and a -3.668 goals saved above average.
Regardless, the Nashville prospect was chosen to represent Team USA at the WJAC alongside Logan Stein of the USHL’s Waterloo Black Hawks.
Stein and Haider split the U.S.’s six games evenly as they beat each of the other four teams before stumbling against Canada East, resulting in a bronze medal-game appearance.
Getting Back on Track
Despite Logan Stein grabbing the net for Team USA’s first game—a 3-2 win over Canada West—Haider used his three starts to display much of the excellent technical ability and game-breaking play that we saw early in the USHL season.
Haider was solid in his three stars allowing just seven goals total, four of which came in his opening start: a back-and-forth 5-4 affair against the Czech Republic. His 0.917 save percentage was tied for third among all ten goalies at the tournament and his 2.265 goals saved above average fell just behind Yegor Guskov and Devon Levi.
Per Jonathan Willis (of The Athletic), Team USA Head Coach Anthony Noreen felt positive about Haider’s game going into elimination play:
“We don’t think he was poor in the first outing. He got us the win against a really good team. I know he wanted to be better. He demands a lot of himself. (Against Russia) he made some key saves early to keep it tight and some big saves even at the end when it was of reach which I think was good for him.”
The U.S. turned to Haider after Canada East took them down in a semifinal-round shootout. He backstopped the Americans to a 2-1 overtime victory over the Czech Republic, grabbing ‘Player of the Game’ honors en route.
Over the course of Haider’s three starts at the WJAC, he was technically sound with his strengths on full display: an aggressive glove hand, a good leg pad seal, and proper edge work.
I was impressed with how well he challenged shot attempts. Sometimes he chased high fluttering pucks, but was mostly effective at mitigating rebounds and deflections with his glove hand like in the clip below.
While Haider plays with an aggressive glove that he pushes out or up to meet pucks before they sink, he showed a good ability to maintain sound glove position when being tested on the other side. In the clip below, Haider does well to seal off the bottom of the net. As he fights for rebound control with his blocker, he keeps his glove in a good catching position, too.
The story of his success in Dawson Creek, however, was his butterfly play. Below, Haider tracks a shot well from the point before using his stick to clear a dangerous rebound.
When tested on more high-danger chances, Haider continued posting impressive highlights. Here he makes an astonishing stop stretching to the right post after a solid deke, but I like how ready he is to push into an upright stance as he tracks the loose puck. He then easily stifles another high-danger chance after anticipating a pass to the slot.
On a penalty kill in the bronze-medal game, Haider continued his impressive acrobatics. At times, his aggressive (but proper) crease positioning opened the door for goal-line or rebound chances. But, as seen below, his agility can solve those problems quickly.
Haider was also tracking pucks well throughout the tournament. As mentioned above, he has a tendency to chase low-danger shots that come in high—it’s how the Czechs beat him to tie the bronze-medal game with four seconds remaining in regulation—but he has great reactionary speed and good rebound coverage.
The Nashville prospect was strong on his edges most of the tournament with a fluid transition between stances and across the crease. On the goal allowed below, Haider just can’t quite get his push off in time for a nearly unbeatable shot.
Infrequently, Haider was caught selling out and was burned as a consequence. The fourth goal he allowed to the Czechs in his tournament debut shows off a gaping five-hole as he misses on a poke-check attempt.
Aside from the highlight-reel stops, my biggest takeaway from Haider’s tournament performance was how fluid his motion is. It’s hard not to notice the talent in his ability to transition from stance to stance and maintain good sight lines of the puck.
In the bronze-medal game, the U.S. struggled with penalties as the Czechs came out flying in the third period. Haider was instrumental in the Americans escaping with a medal, as seen in the sequence below.
Finally, he capped his week off with a memorable, seemingly effortless stop that helped propel his team to victory just minutes later.
Notice how his size and a strong push off his right edge transform Haider from a stagnant butterfly stance to covering the far post with ease.
Next Steps in New York
Haider heads back to Iowa as the USHL wraps up its 2019 schedule this coming weekend. He’ll continue to take a majority of the Musketeers’ starts in the second half of the 2019-20 season and should likely boost his save percentage back above 0.900 before long.
Any international exposure like the WJAC is a positive for later-round picks like Haider, who will spend multiple years in the pipeline. A performance like his in Dawson Creek is a step in the right direction to a potential World Junior Championship appearance in the next couple years.
For the 2020-21 season, Haider will head to Clarkson University for his collegiate debut with the Golden Knights alongside fellow Nashville prospect Alexander Campbell.