2010 Winter Olympics: Time for Canada to Pass the Torch From Brodeur to Luongo

Will JeffersonCorrespondent IFebruary 22, 2010

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 21:  Goalkeeper Martin Brodeur #30 of Canada tries to catch the puck during the ice hockey men's preliminary game between Canada and USA on day 10 of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics at Canada Hockey Place on February 21, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Well, now it seems awfully clear.

If the Canadian men's hockey team wants to win the gold at the Vancouver Olympics, it  should put the local star between the pipes where he belongs—without further ado.

Roberto Luongo, in the tourney opener, did what Vancouver fans and anyone else who has watched him the last several years expected: He pitched a perfect shutout en route to an easy win.

Then, facing a slightly more credible opponent, the Team Canada brain trust went back to its Salt Lake security blanket, Martin Brodeur.

Facing the vaunted hockey powerhouse of Switzerland, Team Canada  out-shot and out-chanced its opponent by a more than 2-to-1 margin, yet ended regulation tied 2-2. It took a shootout for the Canadians to put away the Swiss, losing a point and a good deal of confidence in the process. 

Next up on the slate was an actual contender, albeit a dark horse in most pundits' estimation: The United States.

Brodeur almost handed Team USA the game in the opening period with two goals off puck-handling gaffes.

Desperate not to lose to their "inferior" southern rivals, Brodeur's Canadian teammates fought back twice to tie it.

Then Brodeur gift-wrapped the back-breaking goal: late in the second period, an attempt to poke-check a loose puck caused Brodeur to lunge out of position, allowing wily USA veteran Chris Drury to score into an empty cage before the intermission.

Overeager to press for an equalizer, the Canadians took successive penalties to start the third period. New Jersey teammate and USA captain Jamie Langenbrunner  victimized Brodeur on the powerplay for an insurmountable late U.S. lead.

For a second-straight game, Canada doubled its opponent in shots and scoring chances while completely dominating the game for long stretches. This time, the Canadians didn't just lose one point, they lost all three points.

As a result, assuming Canada can beat Germany in a wild-card round it never expected to be in, it will likely face Russia in the quarterfinals. The same country that eliminated Brodeur and Team Canada in the quarterfinals of the last Olympics.

Weren't these two teams "destined" to meet in the gold-medal game?

The real question is, why was it Canada's plan to go with Brodeur in the first place?

To be sure, Brodeur's resume is impeccable. No other goalie in the tournament, heck maybe no other goalie in the history of the game, boasts a better one.

And to be fair, even the world's biggest stars all have bad games.

But entering this Olympics, my sense was, it was Roberto Luongo's turn.

Brodeur had lost in the quarterfinals in his last Olympic go-around. He also lost to the Swiss. His team scored no goals in either game, so it was hardly his fault.

But the point is, Brodeur is six years removed from his last major international triumph, seven years removed from his last Stanley Cup, and eight years removed from the gold he won in Salt Lake. At this stage, victories from so long ago shouldn't figure so highly in choosing your starting goalie.

Since that time, Brodeur has continued to play well and rack up regular season victories and career records, but in the eyes of many, also during that span, and some time ago now, Roberto Luongo took over the mantle as the top Canadian goaltender in the game.

The fact that this Olympics are in Vancouver, where Luongo plays, shouldn't have automatically made him the starter. Although, that kind of home-rink familiarity and crowd enthusiasm certainly wouldn't hurt. Whatever happened to home-ice advantage?

To me, the fact the Olympics came to Vancouver while Luongo was the local star was perhaps more like a sign: It's time for Luongo to carry the torch for Team Canada now.

Heck, his NHL team is even called the Canucks. How's that for a not-so-subtle hint?

Ironically, it was a much-less heralded Vancouver Canuck who elicited the last cheer on Sunday: Ryan Kesler scored into an empty net to seal Team USA's victory and crush any hope for a Canadian comeback.

Martin Brodeur started this season destined to turn 38 years old before it ends. In a schedule cramped even more than usual—because of the break in the NHL schedule for this Olympics—Brodeur has played an absurd 58 out of New Jersey's 61 games so far.

It's no surprise then, that after a stellar start, Brodeur and the Devils have been slumping for an extended period now. Brodeur entered the tournament with three wins in his 10 prior games. In his last four games, there were back-to-back losses to Philadelphia each featuring blown two-goal leads, plus a yanking after four goals on 22 shots against NHL cellar- dweller Carolina in his last tune-up for the Olympics.

Not unexpectedly, Brodeur has recently looked a tad worn thin. 

The Canadian brass ought to know all this. Jacques Lemaire, the man who put Brodeur in the pipes for those 58 out of 61 games, is an assistant coach for Team Canada at these Olympics. He reportedly has the ear and awe of Head Coach Mike Babcock.

Meanwhile, Roberto Luongo is seven years younger than Brodeur, has had more rest thanks to an early-season injury, came into the tournament as the unquestioned star of one of the hottest teams in the league, and has the extra juice of playing at home in front of fans that revere him like a god.

His leadership qualities are beyond question, as he is the first goaltender to captain an NHL team since 1948.

His save percentage is better than Brodeur's. His winning percentage is better than Brodeur's. His last tune-up game may have paralleled Brodeur's, but his prior 10 games were the total opposite: seven wins against only three losses.

All three losses were part of the longest road-trip in NHL history. A road-trip caused by the presence of the Olympics back home in Vancouver.

So whether you believe in signs, fate and destiny, or prefer to go on cold, hard facts, Roberto Luongo should have been Canada's starter for these Olympics.

If that wasn't clear before the tournament, it certainly is now.


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