Steve Yzerman recently attended the World Championships in Switzerland to scout for the 2010 Olympics. With that in mind, and after some surprise performances in the first two rounds of the playoffs, the time has come to begin the goalie watch for the Games. The Canadian home ice advantage, the use of an NHL-sized ice surface and the league’s unwillingness to commit to the 2014 games in Sochi, Russia are laying the groundwork for what could be the best hockey tournament of all time. So it’s only fitting to expect the best display of goaltending. Most countries will hold summer camps and then evaluate the first half of next season before will making their final decisions but we say let the armchair quarterbacking begin! The top contenders for the gold medal will each need to make some potentially difficult decisions so Tenders Lounge will dedicate separate posts to the medal contenders. First up, the home team Canadians.
Not only are does Team Canada face the pressure of being the host country but they also need to remove the bitter taste from a 7th place finish at the 2006 Torino games.
Safe Bets: At the beginning of the 2008-09 season most observers assumed the number one spot was Martin Brodeur’s to lose and Roberto Luongo would repeat his backup role of ’06. But so far this season both suffered the first serious injuries of their careers and then both made early exits from the playoffs after somewhat below-par performances. On the other hand, Brodeur’s injury, and the subsequent rest, may ironically help him in Vancouver as it prevented fatigue from playing 70+ games. Luongo meanwhile deserved a Vezina nomination as he led the Canucks to a division title. Do the early playoff exits mean there’s extra pressure on them next season to prove they’re still locks for spots one and two?
Worthy of Consideration: If Brodeur and Luongo were considered locks for the top two spots who else is Yzerman considering for the number three position filled by Marty Turco in Torino? Steve Mason is the first name to come to mind given his stellar play in his rookie season and his Vezina nomination. That should be enough to earn him consideration but Canada’s goaltending depth is so great it may be too big a risk to carry a goalie with only one year of NHL play under his belt, even if you’re trying to groom him for future international play. And what of Cam Ward? He has a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe to his credit and this season underwent a resurgence that turned the Hurricanes into the hottest team down the stretch and has carried that level of play into the playoffs. If Carolina pulls off an upset of the Bruins it will only happen because Ward is on his way to a second Conn Smythe, which would put him in the company of Bernie Parent and Patrick Roy as the only goalies with multiple playoff MVP awards. Surely that would be enough to attract Yzerman’s attention, wouldn’t it?
Long Shots: At the beginning of the 2008-09 season many were talking about Carey Price setting himself up for an Olympic bid but Price will need to silence the critics in Montreal with a sensational start to the 2009-10 season and probably hope for an injury to another contender before thinking about Vancouver for his Olympic debut. Marc-Andre Fleury carried the Penguins to the Cup Finals last year and after an up and down season this year he has turned it on for the playoffs. Shutting down Ovechkin and the Capitals in the second round should be enough to put him on the short list.
Even longer shots but worthy of consideration is the duo who helped Canada win a silver medal in Switzerland: Chris Mason and Dwayne Roloson. Roloson probably doesn’t make the list of top three candidates but given his ability to carry the Oilers on his shoulders would anyone doubt his ability should one of the top two go down during the tournament? What a great reward it would be for an under-rated and under-appreciated goalie to make the team in Vancouver, even as an alternate! And let’s not forget the Other Mason goalie. Chris Mason carried a Blues team that was targeting next year’s playoffs into this year’s tournament, and despite being swept he routinely holds the Blues in games. His play at the IIHF tournament this year, in front of Yzerman, should catch the GM’s eye.
Despite the disappointing playoff performances of Brodeur and Luongo it’s difficult to picture Team Canada without either of them, so the real intrigue is going to center around which goalies round out the summer camp and even more importantly, who takes the third spot in February.
Next preview… Team USA.