Olympics on goalies' minds heading into net clash

December, 2, 2009

Oh, sure, it's just a game, and nothing that happens Wednesday night when Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo square off in New Jersey will have much bearing on the Olympic jobs handed out in February.

But just so everyone knows, Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman will indeed be watching the Canucks-Devils game.

"I'm going to TiVo it and watch it later," Yzerman told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "I'm going to be at another game [Tampa at Boston], but when I saw this game [Canucks-Devils] on the schedule, I wanted to make sure I watched it."

So there ... it's not just the media making a big deal out of it, OK?

"To be honest with you, it's exciting to play against Marty, period," Luongo told us Tuesday. "Just because we're from the same hometown and he's one of the greatest of all time. That's really the only reason for me. I don't think one game is going to decide anything with regards to the Olympics."

Brodeur chuckled Tuesday when reached by ESPN.com, fully understanding the reason for the hype. He gets it. In his native country, a showdown like this between two likely Team Canada goalies generates much interest.

"I think it's a great storyline for the day," said Brodeur. "We can't blame people for looking at that and making it a challenge between him and I. It's cool, but I think by Thursday at 2 p.m., everyone will have forgotten what happened [laughs].

"It's one game and it's two and half months away from when it's going to be the time for whoever will be in net to start producing for our country. But for the time being, it is what it is. It's a matchup between two goalies that have a great chance to be part of Team Canada."

That Brodeur and Luongo will be on the 2010 Canadian Olympic team is a foregone conclusion. They'll likely be joined by Marc-Andre Fleury of the Penguins, so I'm not sure how any other goalie at this point is in the discussion given Cam Ward's injury and Steve Mason's sophomore slump. Marty Turco, at least, deserves a look, but most people would agree, barring injury, it's Brodeur/Luongo/Fleury at this point.

"You don't have to look too hard to see who the top guys are for Canada in goal right now," said Yzerman, still careful not to rule anyone out.

That's OK -- I will. It's Brodeur/Luongo/Fleury. The question is, in what order?

"To me, Marty's the No. 1 guy," an NHL coach who requested anonymity told ESPN.com this week. "That's going to be a pressure-filled tournament on home soil. Who else can handle it better?"

Point taken. From an experience point of view, the 37-year-old Brodeur has done it all: He's a three-time Stanley Cup winner, Olympic gold medalist and World Cup of Hockey champion. Just because every single human being with a Canadian passport will expect nothing short of a gold medal come February doesn't scare off Brodeur. Bring it on.

"You really have to relish that opportunity that you have a chance to create something great for your country," said Brodeur. "We got a little taste of it with the 2004 World Cup on home soil [in Montreal and Toronto]. Certainly not to the extent of what the Olympics will be like, but we did have a lot of pressure in the World Cup right in our backyard and I think we handled ourselves pretty good. So I'm happy to have that pressure on home soil. You can't be afraid of it. I look at it as an opportunity to create something unbelievable."

Luongo won a big game for Canada in the semifinals of the 2004 World Cup and led his country to gold at the 2004 world championships in Prague. And let me tell you, having been there for that tournament in Prague, Luongo was sensational under tough conditions on enemy soil.

Of course, Fleury also has a nice résumé going right now: He is a defending Stanley Cup champion netminder with a 2008 Cup final to his credit, as well.

"He's got as good a chance as anybody," Brodeur said of Fleury. "He's a really good competitor. I like the way he plays. He's played in some big games the last couple of years and he's been really successful at it. He's put his foot in the door. Hopefully he'll get named."

And because of what happened to him at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan, where Patrick Roy was guaranteed every start before the tournament began, Brodeur doesn't want any kind of favors because of his vast experience. He wants to earn his place fair and square.

"Because of what happened in '98, I want to make sure everybody has a fair shot at this job," said Brodeur. "I mean, I'll take the job if they tell me I've got it, but I think it's fair that everybody should be on the same playing field. Steve Yzerman and the coaching staff have to put the best team out there. It's a great problem to have, to have solid goaltending."

Brodeur and Luongo both started games in Torino, Italy, four years ago when Canada stunningly flamed out. That's added incentive for Luongo to make amends.

"No question, this is huge," said Luongo. "It's on home soil. The results from four years ago were very disappointing for everybody, especially for me that I'm in Vancouver, I get to live it every day already. People talk about it all over the city. The excitement level is already there. It's just around the corner."

Here's the funny thing: Four years ago, Brodeur himself sounded like a guy who was ready to hand over the torch for 2010. He didn't sound very optimistic that he'd still be in the mix. Turns out he surprised even himself. He remains at the top of his game.

"I really didn't know what to think back then, because it was so far away and the age I would be," said Brodeur. "I really didn't know where my game would be, you know? But the last few years, I've changed a lot of things in how I prepare myself for hockey seasons. My injury last year took four months out of my year, but it also re-energized me. I really beared down in the summer preparing for what could be a big year with NHL and Olympics.

"So here we are, two months away, and looking forward to getting the call in December and getting prepared for that."

Luongo, as usual, had a slow start in early October (some things never change), but has come into form (some things never change).

"You know, it's funny, I had a great training camp, so it's kind of weird," said Luongo. "It was a bit rough out of the gates, but it was only a few games. Every year we make a big deal of it, but at the end of the day, it's not how you start but how you finish, and right now I feel good. I just want to make sure that once February comes along and once the playoffs come along, you're peaking at the right time."

And a win Wednesday night wouldn't hurt, either.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer


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