Tale of two goalies fizzled fast

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:45 AM ET

After a while, you forget what all the fuss was about.

People move on, grudges or vendettas go stale.

Curtis Joseph's return to the Air Canada Centre four years after he left brought little of the drama it might have.

To the Coyotes, it was looked on not as a hype-filled distraction but a tonic for Joseph, who has been horrible of late.

Phoenix coach Wayne Gretzky long ago circled the date as a special night. It was to be another Saturday night in Toronto for the goalie who, over four seasons, contributed an almost unending streak of memorable ones.

But time is the culprit here on several fronts.

While Joseph's departure for Detroit came with some acrimony, he is 38 years old now, but playing in a conference far, far away, he is all but invisible here in the self-appointed Mecca of hockey.

An Olympian four years ago, Joseph cuts a much lower profile these days. The Coyotes signed him as a free agent long shot for the relatively piddling sum of $900,000 US. He earned $6 million a year here.

The lockout, the great schism, has cleaved what had been an uninterrupted string of NHL seasons. Joseph's days in Toronto were, quite literally, of another era.

Likewise, his notion that the team as uninterested in compromising its profit picture doesn't age well. An endless string of high-priced talent -- from Owen Nolan to Brian Leetch -- worked here after Joseph left. The bungled line of communication between Pat Quinn and Ken Dryden was true enough. But that has been solved by Dryden's departure and the appointment of John Ferguson as the club's GM.

Joseph's return wasn't exactly brilliant, what with three power play goals in the first period. All three were power play goals, one of them came on a two-man advantage.

Still, he was the winning goalie in a 4-3 Coyotes' win.

It seemed so big at the time.

Joseph's decision to skate to Detroit was widely interpreted as indictment against a dysfunctional Leafs front office.

The trade: Belfour, two years older, with a a bad back and an arrest in Dallas, for Joseph, a first rate philanthropist and a heroic, dynamic goalie, looked catastrophic.

Joseph left town saying the Leafs were uncommitted to winning. The Wings, he said, were not.

Belfour has been excellent until this year, and Detroit turned into a pipe dream for Joseph. The Red Wings barely scored in a shocking four game sweep to Anaheim.

He suffered a severe ankle injury and then played well in the post-season to bail out the Wings who, committed to winning, had ditched him for Dominik Hasek.

Then came the lockout and an uneven season working for Gretzky. A terrific early season has dissipated under the shadow of a slump and he has been beaten five times in each of the three games before last night.

The Coyotes fought back from a three-goal deficit and tied the game on a goal from Ladislav Nagy. Then 13 seconds later, Fredrik Sjostrom at 4:15 of the third.

The night was decided not so much by the goalies but by the penalties. You can bet that's what the people were talking about on the way out.

The first five goals of the game were scored on power plays.

That, too, is new.

Belfour, meanwhile, came into the game as the 33rd ranked goalie in the league and this looks like his last season here.

If anything, last night proved how starved the Leafs and Coyotes are for a young goalie ready to carry into the future.

It wasn't a night for stars.

Instead, you could find twilight at both ends of the rink.


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