Pros and Cons for All of Team Canada's Potential Goalies at 2014 Sochi Olympics
Being the starting goaltender on the Canadian Olympic team is one of the most pressure-filled spots in all of sports, and it's a role no one can fully understand until they are put in the position.
Starting at next month's Olympic training camp, five players (Roberto Luongo, Carey Price, Mike Smith, Corey Crawford and Braden Holtby) will begin to compete for the No. 1 job.
Whoever wins the position will be under the most pressure from fans and the media to help Canada win back-to-back gold medals for the first time since 1948 and 1952.
Let's take a look at the pros and cons that Hockey Canada must weigh when determining which players will make the final roster for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks
Pros: Gold-Medal Experience, Understands the No. 1 Goalie Role
Roberto Luongo is the only goaltender on Canada's training camp roster with Olympic experience. He was the starter on the 2010 team that won the gold medal in Vancouver, which gives him valuable experience that the other four players competing for a spot on the roster lack.
As the chart below shows, Luongo has plenty of international experience:
In addition to his experience for Team Canada, Luongo has also been a starting goalie for over a decade in the NHL, which includes most of the last seven seasons in the tough hockey market of Vancouver.
Con: Doesn't Handle High-Pressure Moments Well
Even though Luongo has plenty of Olympic experience, he has rarely handled high-pressure moments well on the international or NHL stage.
He's been unable to win a Stanley Cup for the Vancouver Canucks, and in the one time he came close, the 33-year-old veteran lost four of the last five games in the 2011 Cup Final by giving up 17 goals and being pulled in the first period twice.
At the Vancouver Olympics, Luongo was unable to prevent Zach Parise from tying the gold medal game in the final 30 seconds of regulation. Luckily for the Canucks star, Sidney Crosby bailed him out in overtime.
Luongo has plenty of experience in playoff-like atmospheres, but his failures in those moments are a concern for Team Canada.
Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
Pro: Experience Playing in Tough Hockey Market
Carey Price has plenty of experience as the starting goaltender of the Montreal Canadiens, which is the only position in the NHL that includes the level of pressure and expectations similar to what a player faces as the starter of Team Canada at the Olympics.
The 25-year-old knows how to deal with intense pressure from the media and fans, as well as the burden of high expectations.
Cons: Lack of Postseason Success, International Experience
Price has led the Canadiens past the first round of the playoffs just once in five postseason appearances. His career playoff record is a disappointing 9-17-3, with a .905 save percentage and a horrible 2.90 GAA.
This lack of success will certainly be a concern for the people at Hockey Canada when they determine which goaltenders are capable of handling the pressure associated with the starting job. When Price is on top of his game, he's one of the toughest goaltenders to score on. The problem is that he's not consistent, which is frustrating for Montreal fans.
In addition to his poor NHL playoff performances, Price also has no international experience for Team Canada at the World Championships or Olympics. Price did win a gold medal for Canada at the 2007 World Junior Championships, but that's not a fair comparison to the level of hockey he will see in Sochi.
Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks
Pros: Stanley Cup success, Calm Demeanor, Experience with Team Canada Defensemen
Corey Crawford played himself onto the Olympic camp roster with a brilliant performance in the 2013 NHL playoffs where he led the Chicago Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup title. He finished the postseason with a 16-7 record, a 1.84 GAA and a .932 save percentage.
As a goalie with a calm demeanor and fantastic poise in net, Crawford should be able to handle the pressure that comes with being the Olympic starter for Canada if given the opportunity.
It should also be noted that Crawford plays on a Blackhawks team that could send five players to the Olympics, including his top defense pairing of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Being surrounded by teammates who you trust and can rely on makes a goalie feel more comfortable on the ice.
Con: No International Experience
Crawford has never played in a game at the Winter Olympics, World Championships or World Junior Championships.
Entering a game in Sochi, especially one where Canada is facing elimination, would be a challenge he's never faced before, and it's difficult to predict how he would respond despite his impressive success with the Blackhawks.
Crawford's Stanley Cup success should calm concerns about his ability to play well on the Olympic stage, but a lack of games played for Team Canada will not help his case when the final Sochi roster is made.
Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes
Pros: International Experience, NHL Playoff Success
Mike Smith led the Phoenix Coyotes to the team's first Western Conference Final appearance two years ago with a stellar postseason. Last year was a struggle for the 31-year-old because of injuries, but he's likely to bounce back in 2013-14 given his impressive talent and familiarity with head coach Dave Tippett's system.
He also represented Team Canada at the 2013 World Championships and was selected to start the quarterfinal against Sweden (a 3-2 loss). In four games, Smith finished this year's tournament with a .944 save percentage, a 1.64 GAA and one shutout.
Smith has played in many important games during the NHL playoffs and World Championships, which makes him a worthy candidate for the No. 1 goalie position in Sochi.
Con: Lack of Consistent Success at NHL Level
Smith has enjoyed only one great season in the NHL. He was brilliant in 2011-12, but outside of that year, the Coyotes goaltender has been average at best.
Before arriving in Phoenix, his career NHL record was 67-66-19, and he's won more than 15 games in just one season.
Smith is an athletic goaltender who's mentally strong enough to handle high-pressure moments, but his sample size of success is too small. He needs a strong start to the 2013-14 NHL season to prove his injury issues from last year are no longer a concern and that he's still capable of playing at an elite level.
Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals
Pros: Has the Poise and Composure of a Veteran, Playoff Success
Throughout his brief NHL career, Holtby has displayed impressive poise, composure and mental toughness normally seen from veteran goaltenders.
These qualities are why the Lloydminster native has enjoyed so much playoff success with the Washington Capitals (.931 SV% and a 2.04 GAA in 21 career postseason games). Holtby doesn't get rattled when the pressure increases, which is why he has a bright future ahead of him at the NHL level and for Team Canada.
Con: Inexperience at NHL and International Levels
Seeing Holtby's name on the Olympic roster was a surprise given his lack of NHL and international experience. The 23-year-old has been a starting NHL goalie for just one season in Washington and he's never played for Team Canada in any kind of tournament.
Putting a young goalie with no Olympic experience or games played past the second round of the NHL playoffs would be a risky move for Team Canada. There's no question that Holtby has the talent required to be a successful goaltender in international competitions, but he's too young for an Olympic role at this stage of his career.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Finals, as well as the 2013 NHL draft.