Tale of two 'tenders

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:39 AM ET

DAUPHIN -- Want to know yet another difference between women and men?

Imagine the Team Canada guys going into an Olympics or World Cup without knowing who their starting goalie is.

Ridiculous, right? For years now it's been Martin Brodeur -- end of discussion.

Not so with the gals.

We're six days from the start of the World Women's Hockey Championship and nobody, probably not even head coach Melody Davidson, knows who'll be behind the mask for the opener against Switzerland.

"The No. 1 this year? You'll have to ask Mel," Kim St-Pierre, the 28-year-old veteran of five world championships and two Olympic Games, said at the team's training camp here yesterday.

And the other 'tender?

"That's always the same question," sighed Charline Labonte, considered the up-and-comer, at 24. "And it's the same answer. We never know."

Truth is, St-Pierre and Labonte will likely be playing this guessing game throughout the tournament -- right up until the gold-medal final. Or at least, the night before.

"Usually we know a day before," St-Pierre said. "We know who's playing this week, but then for the worlds we don't know anything. I'm pretty sure it's not gonna change this year."

Well, coach, will it?

"The forwards and the D don't know who I'm going to play on power play until the first power play comes up -- why should it be any different for the goaltenders?" Davidson said.

Surely, coach, you realize goaltenders are different. I mean, they talk to their goal posts and throw up before games and knit in the dressing room.

Or take showers during the intermission, or refuse to play when the moon is in a certain part of the sky.

We're dealing with people on the edge, here. Leave them hanging about whether or not they're going to play in the biggest games of the year and it's bound to drive them right over it.

"If most goalies had their way, they'd want to know a year ahead of time who was starting," Davidson said. "They know the night before, so it's not like they go to be bed wondering and worrying."

MASKED MADNESS

Actually it seems like this masked madness doesn't faze St-Pierre or Labonte, who remain good friends despite it.

"With my experience I don't really worry anymore," St-Pierre said. "Before, I was like, 'Oh my god. I wonder ...' After the Torino experience ... I don't make myself too crazy about it."

Ah, yes -- the Torino experience. When the vet played all but one of the preliminary games, then gave way to the kid for the semifinal and final, surprising even Labonte.

"I thought I was behind Kim. The youngest. And I haven't been here for a long time," Labonte said. "It was a good confidence boost, knowing my coaches trust me and put me in the final. It was very good for me."

Turned out great for Canada, too.

But does it mean anything over the next two weeks?

Or will the games against AAA midget competition, here last night and tomorrow, plus an upcoming exhibition game against the Finns, determine the early starter?

Perhaps the just-completed season -- St-Pierre starred for a team in Montreal, Labonte at McGill University -- has already given someone the edge.

If Labonte follows last year's Olympics with another gold-medal performance, you might think we've witnessed an official changing of the guard.

But St-Pierre blocks that notion like a slap shot from the high slot.

"I'm not done yet," she said. "Hockey's still my passion. I'm looking forward to the 2010 Olympics -- that's my next long-term goal, so I really want to do everything in my power to be on this team. But it's a year at a time."

Make that a day at a time.


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