Olympics are Marty's stage
It's gold or bust for Team Canada goalie
By MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency
Martin Brodeur will have the country's weight on his shoulders during the Olympics. (QMI Agency/Suzy Allman)
BUFFALO — The crooning of O' Canada barely had ended at the HSBC Arena Wednesday night when some loudmouth, obviously a straggler from the other side of the Peace Bridge, yelled out a message for all to hear.
“Win us the gold, Marty!” he bellowed, hoping that his plea might catch the attention of New Jersey Devils' Marty Brodeur.
Give the leather-lunged fan credit for being bold. On a night which featured the Battle of Olympic Goalies — Canada’s Brodeur versus Buffalo’s Ryan Miller of Team USA — publicly throwing your support behind Brodeur amongst 18,000 Sabre/Team USA fans takes a lot of guts or a lot of stupidity — maybe both.
Either way, buddy, know this: Brodeur gets the message.
It’s gold or bust for Canada in Vancouver.
And it says here that, with apologies to Roberto Luongo, there really should not be any debate concerning Team Canada’s starting goalie.
Brodeur should be The Man.
“That’s my goal,” he told the Toronto Sun on Wednesday.
With Canada’s Feb. 16 Olympic opener against Norway less than three weeks away, both Brodeur and Luongo have enjoyed outstanding seasons. Entering play Wednesday, Brodeur sported a record of 31-16-1 with seven shutouts, a 2.20 goals-against average and .920 save percentage while Luongo was 28-14-2 with three shutouts, a 2.27 average and .921 save percentage.
In terms of stats, it’s pretty much a wash.
Where Brodeur separates himself from Luongo, aside from experience, is his outstanding puckhandling ability, something that will particularly serve him well in Vancouver.
“The way he plays the puck and can clear the zone, it could mean six to eight less shots allowed by Canada per game,” an Eastern Conference scout said.
In an ideal twist of fate, the playing surface in Canada will play directly into Brodeur’s hands.
Or stick, as the case may be.
First off, the trapezoid — hockey’s no-goalie zone — will not be used at the Olympics, allowing Brodeur to do all the wandering he wants. Interestingly there are some who suggest the trapezoid was introduced to the NHL in the first place in order to counteract Brodeur’s puckhandling skills.
Secondly, because the tournament will be played on the smaller NHL ice surface instead of the larger European rinks, Brodeur will not have as far to go in order to field pucks.
“Sometimes in previous Olympics, when the puck went into the corner, I couldn’t get there before the forechecker in the bigger rink,” he said. “The smaller rink definitely is an advantage.
“As for the lack of the trapezoid, for me, it’s a big difference. It’s going to be fun. I don’t have to worry about where I can and can not go.
“I can tell you this: If the puck comes to me, it’s coming right back out the other way.”
Brodeur did exactly that midway through the second period against the Sabres. Teeing up a puck in his crease, he completed a stick-to-stick pass to Niclas Bergfors all the way up at the Sabres blue line, leading to a premium scoring opportunity for the Devils.
Also in Brodeur’s favour: He knows what it takes to win the gold medal, helping Canada end it’s 50-year Olympic title drought eight years ago in Salt Lake City.
In the past two Olympics, Brodeur gave up just 17 goals in nine games. In eight of those contests, he allowed two goals or less As for Luongo, he wants to be the No. 1 man too. But the classy Canucks goalie will accept any role he gets.
“If ever I’m not starting, I won’t be disappointed,” he said. “I’d be happy to be the No. 2, No. 3 or even the No. 4 goalie, if they had one.”
In a weird scheduling twist, the Maple Leafs could see Canada’s top two puckstoppers in four consecutive games, facing Brodeur’s Devils Friday, Luongo’s Canucks Saturday, then going up against New Jersey in back-to-back tilts the following Tuesday and Friday. By that time, they’ll probably realize that Canada has two No. 1 goalies.