Moose, men and magic

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 2:09 PM ET


 CALGARY -- Losing your starting goaltender for the rest of the playoffs is not normally considered an especially good thing to have happen to a hockey team.

 Except in Vancouver. They're planning the parade.

 We've always known they are not normal folks out on the left coast, but ...

 The popular theory out in lotus land is that getting Dan Cloutier out of there is possibly the final piece of the puzzle for the Canucks in the playoffs and the reason the expiry date on the Calgary Flames' season is now expected to be Thursday.

 A VERY GOOD THING?

 An amazing number of people around the Canucks, including most of the media and, it is said, a high percentage of players, believe the injury to Cloutier late in the first period of Game 3 here Sunday night and the second coming of the Loose Moose, Johan Hedberg, in goal is a good thing. A very good thing.

 Anywhere else, they'd be writing off the Stanley Cup to lose the No. 1 guy in goal. Not on the wet coast.

 Other than coach Marc Crawford, who doesn't much like Moosehead, the goalie not the beer, there's every indication Vancouver is thrilled to have Hedberg in goal the rest of the way in the playoffs because he's a better goalie handling pucks and not giving up rebounds and his playoff history involves success not failure.

 "Just because he played behind Cloutier doesn't mean he isn't No. 1 in some guys' eyes," said Calgary Flames' Andrew Ference, the Sherwood Park product who played with Hedberg with the Pittsburgh Penguins as the former Manitoba Moose made magic in the playoffs for the better part of three rounds in 2001.

 This may not make any sense to most of us. If Hedberg is suddenly supposed to be the saviour, why hasn't he been able to keep a job since he beat Olaf Kolzig and Dominic Hasek in back-to-back series upsets and gave Martin Brodeur a go in the 2001 Stanley Cup run.

 Crawford, who was not available yesterday in the Canucks hotel, dumped all over Hedberg Nov. 13 when he lost 4-3 in overtime, calling his play "terrible."

 Crawford doesn't make many public apologies but after his quote transformed into a one-word "TERRIBLE!" headline on the main sports page the next day, he did offer a public apology to the backup goalie GM Brian Burke gave up a second-round draft pick to secure at the start of the season.

 Burke subbed for Crawford at the gathering yesterday and offered his explanation for his decision to acquire Hedberg, who created a scene with fans showing up wearing foam and plastic moose antlers in the playoffs three years ago in Pittsburgh.

 "I didn't think we had enough Swedes," said Burke in explanation.

 He has seven.

 The theory in Vancouver is that the much-maligned Cloutier has always been the Canucks' Achilles heel.

 No matter how you see this, one thing has been assured. Hedberg is going to be the story, the whole story and nothing but the story for the Canucks, who shipped Cloutier home and who may be done with a knee injury.

 Hedberg is a guy who looked like he might not play another NHL game. A free agent at the end of his $1.2-million contract when the Canucks run is done, Hedberg broke his right wrist on Dec. 9, ironically against Pittsburgh, and missed 16 games.

 He lost back-to-back games in March and Cloutier played the last six prior to the playoffs. Some saw that as his last chance.

 "It crossed my mind," Hedberg said here yesterday. "It's something I didn't worry about. Anything can happen. it's been a strange year."

 Hedberg admits he was a bit rattled by Crawford's "terrible" tirade.

 "It upset me at the time. But I always look to myself. I don't question anybody else if I'm not playing well, no matter what people say, the media or the coaches ...

 IT'S ABOUT FOCUS

 "I know what I've got to do, what I can do and what I can control. That's where I put my focus. There's no reason to fight the fights you can't win."

 Suddenly, it's all upside for the goalie who showed up in Pittsburgh wearing his mask painted with a moose head, and became a Cup story for a month and a half.

 "It was the most fun I ever had in hockey. Ever. So much happened during that time," Hedberg reflected yesterday. "I got a chance to play in the NHL for the first time. I was on a team with Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr. I was walking on clouds for a couple of months. It was so exciting. It was so much fun.

 "I like to think it wasn't a fluke."


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