Win-win situation

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:36 AM ET

Decades ago, when legendary goaltender Jacques Plante anticipated a quiet night, he would take his knitting out to the net.

Roberto Luongo does not knit. He'll have to find some other way to keep himself amused this afternoon when he handles the netminding duties for Team Canada against Slovenia.

"Mentally you have to stay focused for 60 minutes," Luongo said yesterday. "You don't want any lapses against a team like that because it may cost you a goal."

If there were such a goal, it wouldn't matter much in determining the outcome. Canada will defeat Slovenia handily.

But in the tie-breaking system to determine the matchups for the next round, goals-for and goals-against can be a factor. Team USA beat Slovenia 7-0 on Sunday. Canada therefore wants to win by at least eight.

The Slovenians practised right after Canada yesterday and got to the arena in time to watch the Canadians at work. The physical play in a short Canadian scrimmage, even though well below the level the Slovenians can expect in today's game, had them chattering to each other in amazement, their eyes wide.

It's a bit of a tightrope for the Canadians. They have no desire to embarrass any opponent, but with the format being what it is, they may have to, as coach Marc Habscheid puts it, "keep the foot on the gas."

At the other end of the equation, this seemed like a good time to give Luongo the start. It's not that Luongo isn't capable of handling better-quality opponents, but as the tournament progresses it will become increasingly likely that Martin Brodeur will want to start.

This way, Brodeur can get a day off and Luongo can get a start, an arrangement which keeps both goalies happy.

"I'm excited about it," Luongo said. "I can't wait. Any chance I get to play is a great opportunity for me. I'm just going to pursue what I've done so far and keep getting better every day."

And in many ways, getting better is the primary concern for Luongo at this stage of his career. At the moment, Brodeur is the Canadian goalie par excellence and he'll get the job whenever he wants it.

But down the road, Brodeur will need a successor, and although that's not Luongo's main concern at the moment, it is nonetheless a consideration.

"You never know what can happen in the future," he said. "Every time I take part in a tournament, that's my main focus.

"Obviously, I'd like to have that job in the future, no doubt about it. But you can't predict the future, so every moment I have, I just try to take advantage of it, whether it's playing goal, backing up whatever it is to make the most out of it, get the best out of it and then get that job in the future."

Luongo and Jose Theodore generally are considered to be the two best young goalies Canada has to offer. By taking part in this tournament, when Theodore turned it down, Luongo has helped his chances of getting the starting job down the road.

LOYALTY

"What is there not to like about it?" he asked. "Obviously, it's during playoff time and I'd rather be part of the playoffs. But when you don't have a chance to be part of the playoffs and you have a chance to come here, you can't really say no. It's just a great experience. And you get a chance to play in front of the whole world."

But Luongo knows that the game is always evolving and that he will have to keep pace.

"If you look at video from 10 or 15 years ago you see shots go in and nowadays there's no way that goal is going in. If it does, it's a bad goal. That's why scoring is down. Goalies work on their game.

"They're one of the best athletes on the team and it has really revolutionized the game. That's why hockey today is not the same as it was 10 or 15 years ago. Now everybody has a technique and positioning is huge. All these things mean that goalies are just so much better than they were in the past."

If the Slovenians didn't already know, that's a lesson they'll learn today.


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