Ready for showdown

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 1:29 PM ET

Welcome to the National Hockey League's Vezina Division, formally known as the Northeast.

Three winners of the prestigious goaltending trophy now reside here, Ottawa Senators' Dominik Hasek and tonight's starters at the Air Canada Centre, Ed Belfour of the Maple Leafs and Jose Theodore of the Montreal Canadiens.

"For me growing up, they were both guys I looked up to," the 29-year-old Theodore said. "I still do, because they're both 40 and they're both still playing well."

"It's always a big challenge to play against them. Look at the way Eddie played two years ago. Look at the early days from when he was training with (Vladislav) Tretiak.

"Eddie kept saying he was training hard in the summertime and that's something I've done the past couple of years. When you're 22, you don't have to, but when you get to be 30 or 35, the early days of training are what pay off."

Theodore is off to a 2-0 start with wins over the Boston Bruins and the New York Rangers. Canadiens coach Claude Julien will have to get backup Yann Danis in at some point, but likely not in the four games involving the Leafs and Senators between tonight and Oct. 27.

"Jose wants to play every game, and if he had his way, he'd play all 82, no matter how tired," Julien said. "Jose's a very competitive person by nature. What I like about him is that he's extremely strong between the ears to put up with the pressure of being a local kid (playing) in Montreal.

"With the attention he gets here -- positive or negative -- he has to be strong mentally to keep his focus. He has been able to do that since he came here."

There already was a sense of excitement in Montreal this season about the team, fuelled by the re-signing of Alexei Kovalev and the fine training camp performance of their youngsters. The decision to return flashy Quebec junior forward Guillaume Latendresse was a hard one for general manager Bob Gainey, but others such as Chris Higgins and Alex Perezhogin have stepped up.

Gainey's final roster trim resulted in defenceman Ron Hainsey and forward Peter Vandermeer dropped, despite both having one-way contracts, in favour of defenceman Mark Streit and 263-pound Latvian strongman Raitis Ivanans. Streit was the captain of the Swiss national team.


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