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Babcock's decided on No. 1, but who?

Thursday, 02.18.2010 / 11:30 AM ET / News
By John Dellapina
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Babcock\'s decided on No. 1, but who?
VANCOUVER – Martin Brodeur wants the Canadian net. He wants it badly. But he doesn't want it as some sort of gold watch for long and meritorious service. He wants it because the man making the decision – coach Mike Babcock – believes Brodeur gives Team Canada its best chance to win a gold medal.

The thing is: the two notions aren't mutually exclusive. And while there might not be much to choose from among the three talented Canadian goaltenders in terms of ability and current form, past performance on the game's biggest stages is a tiebreaker that Brodeur locked up long ago.

Babcock said at a press conference following Team Canada's practice Wednesday afternoon that he has decided how he will deploy his goaltenders for the remainder of the Olympics. He also said he isn't telling.

Not yet, anyway.

So all we know for sure is that Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks, got the nod to start the Canadians' Olympic opener against Norway – at least in part, Babcock said, because he is the hometown boy – and that Brodeur starts Thursday night's second game of Group A play against Switzerland. And that Marc-Andre Fleury won't dress for the second straight game.

However, barring a very poor Brodeur performance against the Swiss – or, the unthinkable, a second straight Swiss Olympic upset over Canada four years after the 2-0 shocker in Torino – all signs point to Brodeur tending the Canadian net in Rivalry Sunday's pivotal Group play finale against the United States with the plan being to stick with him through the medal round.

All Babcock would say on the subject Wednesday was what everybody already knew.

"As far as what we've done so far, we started Luongo (against Norway in Canada's opener Tuesday afternoon) and he played very well," Babcock said. "And Brodeur is playing the next game. And that's as far as I've expressed anything to the media.
 
"I think it's very competitive. It was very competitive at the orientation camp. It was very competitive to be here. We've watched these goalies closely. And in the end, you've got to make a decision. I've done that in my own mind and we'll share that with you as time goes on."
 
At other points during his press conference, however, Babcock waxed poetic about the value of experience at times like these. He said that, from having coached Chris Chelios and Nicklas Lidstrom with the Red Wings, he has seen older players have tough stretches in the regular season and then come up big in the Stanley Cup finals. Babcock mentioned Team Canada elder statesmen Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger and the 37-year-old Brodeur as examples of that.
 
"At times like that, the cream comes to the top," Babcock said.
 
At another point, describing why Devils coach Jacques Lemaire is such a valuable part of Team Canada's coaching staff, Babcock said: "I think, when you get in these pressure situations, knowledge and preparation and experience defeat fear. And he has all those things."
I think it's very competitive. It was very competitive at the orientation camp. It was very competitive to be here. We've watched these goalies closely. And in the end, you've got to make a decision. I've done that in my own mind and we'll share that with you as time goes on. - Canada coach Mike Babcock

Of course, so does Brodeur.
 
He took over for a shaky Curtis Joseph in the second game of the 2002 Salt Lake City Games and led Canada to its first Olympic gold medal in 50 years. He backstopped Canada to the World Cup of Hockey title in 2004. And he was Canada's No. 1 goaltender again – he played four games, including the medal rounder while Luongo played two -- in Torino, where a promising tournament ended with a thud of a 2-0 loss to Russia in the quarterfinals.

But Brodeur wants Babcock to have judged him the best goaltender of 2010, not 2002 or 2004 or 2006.
 
"No, I don't want anything to be owed to me," Brodeur told NHL.com. "For me and for all the players to be involved, you need to earn your position. I don't think it's fair for anybody to get something just thrown out to you – 'Go ahead, it's yours.' You want to go out there every day and earn it. And that's the way I've been throughout my whole career.

"I know I'm the No. 1 in New Jersey and have been for years. But I always challenge myself to be the best every day, in practice and in games. And I think it needs to be like that. If you don't have that attitude, overconfidence could hurt you – especially in big tournaments like this."

Nerves and inexperience also can hurt teams. Which is partly why, though they've turned over much of their roster to the next generation of stars – such as Sidney Crosby – Canada also has veterans such as Niedermayer and Pronger and Brodeur. And Niedermayer, the Canadian captain, believes that Brodeur's experience should count for a lot.

"I think there's always competition, but at the same time, I think that your past, your track record … I think they should take that into consideration," Niedermayer said. "I don't think they should throw that all out.
 
"I think it should matter. That's a big part of it. How has a guy dealt with these situations? Has he had success? Those are all things that you look at that are important. But obviously, it's important that he's still playing that way and still doing those things at this time. So I think both are involved."

Niedermayer, who played the first 12 seasons of his NHL career – and won three Stanley Cups -- in front of Brodeur with the Devils, says his longtime teammate has both the past and present covered.

"Even today in practice, some of the saves that he was making, there were some oohs and aahs from the guys," Niedermayer said. "I was fortunate to be his teammate for a long time. And we did have success and he was a big reason why. I was very comfortable having him back there again today."






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