This is Martin Brodeur's Olympic tournament, his gold medal to win or lose for Canada. No sharing time in the nets, no having to look out the side of his mask to see if coach Mike Babcock is making eyes at Roberto Luongo. None of that. This thing belongs to Marty.
It's kind of crazy that we're even talking about this, what with Brodeur being maybe the greatest goaltender of all time, the NHL wins and shutouts king. Sheesh, you know the resume. Three Stanley Cups. Four Vezina trophies. He's got an Olympic gold medal, too.
We wouldn't even be having this discussion if the other guy, Luongo, wasn't so dang full of talent. I've seen him. You've seen him. It doesn't take an NHL superscout to know what he can do. On the nights when Luongo's on, and there are a lot of them, you like what he does with his glove and with his pads and with his stick. You like where he puts his elbows and his face, too. Sometimes you look at the net when Luongo's in it and all you see is goalie everywhere.
He has all that going for him, and he's got the crowd. They love this guy in Vancouver. And why wouldn't they? He's the best non-twin the Canucks have had on their side all decade. He's the reason Vancouverites dream of the Stanley Cup. Now he's in the Olympics with a Johnny Canuck painted on his goalie mask.
We wouldn't have to mention Luongo if it wasn't for Babcock playing things so coy. He finally let it out that Brodeur will start on Sunday against the U.S., but after that game, he says, who knows? Sometimes Babcock says he's got his goaltending situation figured out in his head but doesn't see any reason to spell it out for anyone more than a game in advance. The guy's a big tease, is all.
Me, I wouldn't take Brodeur out even if he gives up a soft one to the U.S. or looks shaky for awhile. Maybe he should have had that first goal Switzerland scored on him Thursday night, that blast from Ivo Ruthemann. It was a wicked slap shot off the wing and all, had some real Swiss cheese on it, but on his best day, Marty picks that puck out of mid-air and the crowd goes ooh. (The second Swiss goal, forget it. The ghost of Jacques Plante couldn't have stopped that one from glancing in.)
Then did you see ol' Marty in the shootout? First pressure of any kind for a North American goalie in this Olympics and he foiled the Swiss shooters not once but four times. The last guy, a forward named Martin Pluss, tried to go glove side on Brodeur with the game on the line. We know where that'll get you.
I wouldn't pull Brodeur for giving up a soft goal or even three. Seriously, he'd have to lose it completely, go totally José Theodore on us, for me to even think about sitting him down.
Brodeur has been saying the right things, about how he was glad to see Luongo play in Canada's Game One against Norway and how it's good to have two goalies sharp and how he's happy to be taking it one game at a time. Brodeur remembers what it was like playing behind Patrick Roy in Nagano in 1998, when Roy wouldn't let him get a game in edgewise.
"I'd never do that to another guy," Brodeur has said.
He could do it, though. Given all that he's accomplished, Brodeur could take Babcock aside and say, "Man, just announce that I'm the starter!" and Babcock might do just that. You have to keep your goalie happy and all. But that's not Brodeur's style.
It feels so un-Olympian to have a goalie controversy, anyway, doesn't it? We wouldn't be talking about it if some people didn't get so nuts for hockey, for Canadian hockey especially. One screw-up and they're ready to pounce. A point of contention is worth its weight in Olympic gold. After Luongo shut out Norway (that's Norway, folks!) one hockey reporter wrote that Brodeur should start sweating his hold on his job.
"Canadians are strange people," Don Cherry told SI not long ago. "We eat our own."
Here's something for you: Just in case you're tempted to let Luongo's sweet save percentages (a neat .920 in 2008-09, for one thing) get to you. Here is Luongo's career playoff record after nine NHL seasons: 11 wins and 11 losses. Brodeur's won about nine times that many postseason games. He's won 15 in Stanley Cup finals alone. Marc-Andre Fleury, Canada's third goalie, has 31 playoff wins. Luongo hasn't had anything like the caliber of teams in front of him that Brodeur and Fleury have had, but still: 11 and 11.
I can't believe we're even talking about this. These are Martin Brodeur's Games. Today. On Sunday. All next week and right through the medal round. That's it.
End of story.